Artsakh and its citizens need radical changes. Such a unique opportunity is being provided after recent developments and shortcomings, which should be used, showing once again that owners of Artsakh are not the authorities, but the whole society once having felt the breath of liberty.


Yelena Zohrabyan, Alumnus of AIISA III Democracy School and Faculty of Journalism, Yerevan State University


Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Abraham Lincoln[1]


Today is the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of Nagorno Karabakh: Armenians in Artsakh proclaimed their decision on secession and independence from Azerbaijan and building a democratic state 2 September 1991. However, 25 years later it should be regretfully recorded that achieving a strong civil society and a democratic state in Artsakh hasn’t been reached yet.



1988 was a turning point in the history of Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR): against the background of Perestroyka and democratization by the USSR supreme leadership, the people of Artsakh voiced a protest in support of their rights and freedom, as well as against the Soviet totalitarian system that resulted in pan- national movement.

Image result for Deminstrations in Stepanakert 1988

Initially, peaceful demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, hunger strikes and strikes had been main forms of the people’s disobedience, protesting and claiming. Then, a public demand to convene a session of the Parliament of Armenia was presented in May 1988, which was accompanied by pickets and hunger strikes. Finally, the session was convened at the request of deputies.

А similar but full-scale scene was recorded in the end of November 1988. Having different views on the issues of public agenda the parliamentary leadership found convening a session in that period as inexpedient. However, the parliamentary session was held at the Opera House building, during which the deputies rejected the adoption of a new code on holding elections in the USSR and the decree on amendments to the Constitution due to their anti-democratic nature. Thus, on that very day people convened a session with their own agenda for the first time, adopting respective decisions, and all these occurred without the presence of the highest authorities.

Declaring a state of emergency and a curfew in Yerevan followed. USSR central authorities called the decisions adopted by the “People’s Parliament” unconstitutional and illegal. Since July 1988 people started returning their party membership cards and massively left the Communist Party. A new era of re-evaluation of the past and the present started. Committees, compatriot associations, charitable and other non-governmental organizations were formed.

Karabakh movement was born as a national movement with quite certain goals, however in 1988 it turned from a national into a national-democratic movement. Demonstrations and marches were held with participation of hundreds of thousands of peoples. Hundreds of “Karabakh” committees formed in various enterprises in March 1988 to support the leadership of Karabakh movement, in a short period effectively managed organizing and channeling of social activism.

In other words, people, who stood to fight against the almighty Soviet Empire at the end of the 20th century, won it not only with their determinant power, but also with democratic-revolutionary wave, anchored on national values, and left the fear from communism behind. Thus, it may be clearly stated, that Karabakh movement was a struggle for self-determination, freedom and security of the people of Artsakh[2].

Image result for yerevan demonstrations 1988

Touching upon the process of post-war democracy, it should be noted, that after the 1994 ceasefire, the people of Artsakh and Armenia launched a process of social self-organization while the war, then the armistice, set new rules in it. However, not so favorable conditions were established for the development of full-fledged democracy.

External military threat, increasing day-by-day, issues of reproduction of the authorities gradually weakened public consciousness on inseparability of democracy and security. While the following characteristics, inherent to democratic political system, is required for the establishment of a fully democratic state[3]:

♦ Mechanisms guaranteeing protection of human rights and freedoms;

♦ Availability of political pluralism;

♦ Applicability of a principle of power separation;

♦ Rule of law and equality before the law;

♦ Free, fair and transparent elections;

♦ Establishment of social and legal state;

♦ Ethnic, religious and cultural diversity;

♦ Majority rule with guaranteed protection of minority rights.

Thus, daily control of the authorities by the civil society, as well as active political competition, public debate amongst individuals of different ideologies, free press and so forth are a necessity to have a developed and democratic state with good governance.    



♦ Civil society

♦ Free  press

Since Karabakh Parliamentary elections of 28 December 1991 regular elections for representative power and local self-government bodies have been held in the Republic.

Foundation of non-governmental organizations in Artsakh has got a great impetus since the 2000s. Few dozens of NGOs, charity foundations, such as “Americans for Artsakh” investment fund, “Shushi” charity foundation, “Defender of Motherland” youth union, “Helsinki Initiative-92” of Nagorno Karabakh, NGO alliance “Country”, Monte Melkonian Fund, “Renaissance of Shushi” fund and a number of other cultural organizations were established.

According to the 2016 data, 227 NGOs were registered in Artsakh. As of official data of 2008, state support to the civic sector amounted to AMD 50 million, in 2009-2010 — AMD 60 million, in 2014-2015 — AMD 70-80 million. In 2016 the state allocated AMD 80,930,000 to NGOs: 30 NGOs and 3 newspapers were financed.

Despite the large number of NGOs in NKR, a strong civil society has not been formed out of objective and subjective reasons. The state control over that sector became more intensive as almost all areas of governance, including NGOs, remains under the control of the authorities. The problem is that NKR authorities regard civil society organizations as subjects serving to them, therefore those not intending to be their subordinates, become their adversary.

The next issue existent in NKR is that any criticism against the authorities is perceived as an attempt to split the society and to instigate internal disorder. This is a trick which enables the government to keep NGOs under its control, thus damaging interests of both the state and the society.

Another obstacle for NKR is its non-recognition internationally. As a result, doors of international organizations remain closed before NGOs of Artsakh, therefore the latters have to maintain their activities in the areas, where they will count on state support and, most importantly, will not oppose to the government.

Constant threat of military aggression against Karabakh and public realization of it in their turn suppress internal democratic process and leave a negative impact on social developments, as the factor of state security is being pushed forward. As a result, the society prefers internal stability for the sake of external security.

Another problematic field is the freedom of press in Karabakh. Reflecting to activity of NKR press, it should be noted that according to non-official data around forty media outlets are being published there. Amongst them are: “Azat Artsakh”/“Free Artsakh” official newspaper, regional newspapers of Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Askeran, Shushi, Qashatagh and Shahumyan, “Aparazh”/“Rock” newspaper of Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF), “Hayrenik”/“Fatherland” newspaper of Democratic Party of Artsakh, “Akounk”/ “Source” newspaper of “Azat Hayrenik” /“Free Motherland” Party, “Artsakh Communist” newspaper of Artsakh Communist Party, as well as a number of literary, youth newspapers of numerous organizations, “Analyticon” monthly, “Nor Ej”/“New Page” independent newspaper, NKR Defense Army’s official “Martik”/“Fighter” newspaper, Karabakh war press archive, NKR state television, “Nor Alik” /“New Wave” radio (Stepanakert), “De Facto” informational-analytical agency and others.   

Despite this number, it may be surely stated that there is almost no alternative press in Karabakh. The only one distinguished from the printed media is “Demo” public biweekly press, which is the most widely read newspaper despite its limited edition. This newspaper faces obstacles, as it is considered to be oppositional, financed by British “Conciliation Resources” organization.

Karabakhi population complains of the information vacuum in the country: although there is television, press, they do not provide comprehensive information. The only local TV channel is Artsakh Public TV, which is broadcast 4 hours a day. The population also complains that public television represents only the views of the authorities. Similar situation is observed in the printed media as well. Greater part of printed media belongs to political parties, which in one way or another cooperate with the authorities, thus becoming dependent and not unbiased.

Definitely there are complexities in speaking of problems existent in Artsakh. Those expressing standpoints contradictory to the state’s propaganda are considered “providers of water for the enemy's mill.” Whereas keeping silent by the society grew the challenges of corruption and arbitrariness for the country, and the army and the civil society confronted the latter’s consequences during the 2016 April war. The roles are mixed—NGO and mass media function of controlling the authorities has turned into an opposite phenomenon, where they are being controlled by the state.           

In order to have a real control and accountability of the authorities in different fields, a strong opposition is needed. Indeed, the elections held 3 May 2015 in Nagorno Karabakh varied from others. In addition to the “Free Homeland” party headed by NKR PM Arayik Harutyunyan, Democratic Party of Artsakh of the National Assembly speaker Ashot Ghulyan, the ARF party headed by Deputy PM Artur Aghabekyan, and the “Movement-88” led by the opposition politician Vitaly Balasanyan, the new opposition “National Renaissance” party led by Hayk Khanumyan also took part in the elections for the first time.

Currently NKR Parliament, actually, has both governmental and opposition members, however, the latter’s representation in the National Assembly is weak, which is a serious obstacle for Karabakh’s democratization. Recent abduction and beating of Hayk Khanumyan witness opposition politicians are severely punished while attempting to oppose to the authorities.

The encroachment practiced by the authorities against Khanumyan, perhaps, even unconsciously, first and foremost, hits Karabakh’s democratic image. It was a proof of treating a political opponent through force as well. Sometimes pressure is also exerted against representatives of the civil society, who criticize the government.

Hence the conclusion: either speak good or nothing about Karabakh. The grounding is: unless the conflict is not resolved there is no need to please Azerbaijanis by touching upon the problems existent in Karabakh.



The thesis—if the country steps on the way of full-fledged democratization, it will face a number of threats—is being constantly discussed in Artsakh, though it should be noted, that threats to the country’s security come not only from outside (external), but also from inside (internal).

Unsettled issue of the status for Karabakh and resumption of military operations remain a source for external threat for Armenians. However, apart from the external threat, the internal ones should be firstly addressed in NKR. When there is no effective system for human rights protection, no productive control over electoral processes, and the civil society is not sufficiently involved in solving the country's policy issues such as social injustice, disparity in quality of life, shadow economy and so on, then these all are potential threats to the country.

Overcoming of internal threats is the society’s main task; people have the right and the opportunity to get rid of these threats. Apparently, democratization will help to solve the country's external problems rather easily, especially, when internal problems become manageable. Yet, having a democratic state is not a guarantee to meet all types of external challenges. There will always be external threats, as they are not conditioned by democracy alone.

Image result for Democracy in Karabakh

Another factor of ensuring national security is presence of a strong army. The Army is a particular and unique security system. However, the army is not an isolated body, and it cannot solve the problems of national security and ensure the desired result without civic support and participation. As the April War showed, it should not be relied on the army and military equipment only. That was case of developments during the April war: RA and NKR authorities have let things run themselves and wasted the material and financial resources beyond the civil control, every time speculating the factor of security. In addition, over the years, the people were fuelled with the idea as if Artsakh goes through full democratization, then that will threaten to its national security, which is misleading.

The NKR government has centralized all administrative resources on the one hand, and the limited number of the opposition does not allow more effective control over the activities of the authorities on the other. In this case, when the government does not consider itself responsible and accountable for its actions, and acts in its interests, the population of Artsakh face issues of corruption, arbitrariness and many others, which  accordingly may endanger the country's both internal and external securities even more.

For the authorities of Artsakh, why not—as well as of Armenia, the security factor has remained constant topic for speculation and a deterrent of internal democratic developments. Hence, in this case, the civil society must be strong, as the country’s internal and external securities and the future of sustainable development depend on it.

Image result for Самвел Бабаян в Степанакерте

Accordingly, three main conclusions should be drawn after all.

Firstly, absence of a genuine democracy is the biggest threat against physical security of the people, the state and the army. When corruption, illegality, election frauds, reproduction of the authorities, waste of national wealth and financial resources, allocated by the Diaspora, social injustice are tolerated for years, the security of the state is endangered as a result.

Another factor threatening to the security is improper supervision of the authorities, which may be ensured through a civil society, a strong opposition and free press.

Thirdly, presenting the army as the only guarantee for security, behind which usually a variety of political and diplomatic failures are veiled.

Artsakh and its citizens need radical changes. Such a unique opportunity is being provided after recent developments and shortcomings, which should be used, showing once again that owners of Artsakh are not the authorities, but the whole society once having felt the breath of liberty.

By that Artsakh will raise as a truly democratic country, when the civil society succeeds in controlling over activities of the authorities and forcing them to be responsible and accountable for every single step.



[2] The Issue of Artsakh (from 1918 to nowadays), Yerevan State University, Faculty of history, Department of the Armenian history, 2016 (in Armenian)