War hero challenges Nagorno Karabakh’s incumbent president
Published: Wednesday July 18, 2012
In July 19 elections, people of Nagorno Karabakh will decide between the incumbent president Bako Sahakyan, first elected in 2007, and his main challenger Vitaly Balasanyan, a Hero of Artsakh (one of only twenty individuals to be so honored), who left the military in 2005 and is now a member of parliament. What follows is an English translation of the interview with Balasanyan by The Armenian Reporter's Emil Sanamyan.
ES: Please, briefly introduce yourself, what have been your main personal and professional accomplishments, what do you want to accomplish as NKR President?
VB: I was born in 1959 in the district center of Askeran in Nagorno Karabakh in a large family. Prior to the beginning of the Artsakh movement, I went to school, served in the Soviet army and worked in various civilian jobs.
As the war began I was responsible for the defense of Askeran district. I commanded a regiment, later a division and [from 1999 to 2005] was deputy Defense Army commander and NKR deputy defense minister. Three times I was elected to the parliament of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. I always fulfilled my duties conscientiously.
I have set the following priorities for myself as president:
Security of the Artsakh republic within its present de-facto borders, while not forgetting about Azerbaijan's occupation of the Shaumyan district, as well as the Getashen area and portions of the Martakert and Martuni districts;
Recognition of the Artsakh republic by the Republic of Armenia and the international community, subsequent unification of the two Armenian states, provision of conditions for the development of democratic institutions, civil society and civilized political competition;
Social justice and civic accord, functioning of an independent judicial system, independent mass media and public access to information;
Economic development through equal conditions for entrepreneurs, a tough fight against corruption, support for local production; competitiveness in all spheres as a pre-condition for competitiveness of the country as a whole;
More proportional development of Nagorno Karabakh [outside the capital of Stepanakert]; the infrastructure in the rural areas - particularly in the border areas - must be developed, which has obvious national security implications;
Participation of all Armenians in Artsakh's development and Artsakh's participation in preservation of Armenian communities [abroad]; adoption of a law on NKR citizenship that would provide for dual citizenship.
ES: In 2007 presidential elections you backed Bako Sahakyan, today you are challenging him. Do you regret your past support? What do you consider to be the main accomplishments and shortcomings of Bako Sahakyan as president?
VB: Having served as advisor to the president [between 2007 and 2010], I know all the inefficiencies and failures of the system, its inability to take advice and suggestions. On many pressing issues I presented my proposals to the president, but they were ignored. Those three years were lost time for me.
Analyzing the years in office of the outgoing president, I can only consider his domestic policies as there has been no foreign policy to speak of. Most clearly this is obvious from the fact that the position of foreign minister remains vacant for over a year and prior to that the Foreign Ministry remained extraordinarily passive. Even on the most important issue - the Karabakh problem - we have no conceptual document that reflects our positions.
As to the domestic policies, I believe that Bako Sahakyan deviated from his pre-election program, there has been centralization of corruption, construction tenders are conducted without transparency, state purchases are dominated by favoritism and budget funds are wasted. The country's economy is effectively in the hands of the president and his circle. As a result we have worsening social polarization and regress in practically all spheres.
ES: In Nagorno Karabakh as in other former Soviet societies the public is particularly irritated by confluence of political power and officials' personal financial interests. Do you own a business and how do you intend to separate your personal interests and those of the people close to you from political influence you would command?
VB: I do not own a business. Should I be elected, my overarching goal will be our country's development. To be successful we have to conduct a principled policy against illegal involvement of officials in economic activity, protectionism and theft and to guarantee separation of business and politics. I am most serious about accomplishing all this.
ES: In terms of security, do you see the growing technical sophistication of the arms build-up around the Karabakh conflict affecting the value of the security belt that includes the former Azerbaijani-populated districts under Armenian control? What will be your long-term security policy?
VB: I would like to stress that the territories you mentioned are referred to in the NKR Constitution and are part of our homeland. Even if in the future they should lose their past relevance from the point of view of military planning, they will not be an object of trade and will remain under our control.
I see the future of liberated territories in continued care for the newly-established and re-established settlements, creation of new settlements from Mardakert to the Araxes. These settlements will be created through enlargement of existing communities and repatriation. An important element of repatriation should be a return of people who have over the years left Artsakh and their children and grandchildren.
In the long-term, Artsakh's security will be provided through a combination of military-technical, political and diplomatic resources that are either not currently exploited or are used only partially.