Russian Language Poised to Gain Official Status In Karabakh

Russian peacekeepers stationed in Artsakh (Photo by Dickran Khodanian)
Russian peacekeepers stationed in Artsakh (Photo by Dickran Khodanian)

Russian peacekeepers stationed in Artsakh (Photo by Dickran Khodanian)

YEREVAN (—Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have endorsed a proposal to make Russian the Armenian-populated territory’s second official language.

The measure was proposed last month by three of the five political parties represented in the Karabakh parliament. One of them, Free Fatherland, is led by Arayik Harutiunyan, the Karabakh president.

Harutiunyan’s administration approved this week a relevant bill drafted by the three parties, paving the way for its passage.
The bill cites Karabakh’s history of “cultural, military and economic links” with Russia and says that giving Russian an official status would deepen them. Its proponents have also argued that this would facilitate communication with Russian soldiers and aid workers deployed in Karabakh after last year’s Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

Some local lawmakers have voiced objections to the bill. They include Metakse Hakobyan of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) party, one of the bill’s three co-sponsors.

Hakobyan reiterated on Friday that the proposed legislation must be amended to guarantee the supremacy of the Armenian language. “Russian should have more of a working than official status and the two languages should not be equated,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Several Karabakh academics have also spoken out against making Russian an official language. One of them, Yana Avanesyan, said the bill in question is “unfounded” in its current form.

Free Fatherland’s Aram Harutiunyan, one of the authors of the bill, insisted that Armenian will remain Karabakh’s main official language.

“We are not going to immediately switch to Russian,” he said. “We want to solve a technical issue in the first instance. Namely, to use [Russian] when necessary.”

Russia’s presence in Karabakh increased dramatically after Moscow brokered a ceasefire agreement that stopped the six-week war on November 10. The deal led to the deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops in Karabakh as well as along a land corridor connecting the disputed territory to Armenia.

The peacekeepers have helped tens of thousands of Karabakh Armenians, who fled the fighting, to return to their homes.


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