STEPANAKERT — Philanthropist and businessman Ruben Vardanyan announced on Thursday his decision to take up the second-highest post in Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership, saying that he will help the Armenian-populated territory confront grave challenges facing it.
“At the beginning of November, I will officially assume the position of Artsakh (Karabakh) state minister, and at that time I will present our strategic goals and priority issues requiring solutions and also inform about the first steps to be taken,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Until the end of October, I will continue meetings aimed at forming our team and our plans.”
Born and raised in Yerevan, Vardanyan moved to Russia in 1985 and made a big fortune there in the 1990s. He rose to prominence as a co-founder and chief executive of Russia’s most famous investment bank, Troika Dialog.
Vardanyan, 54, also has major business interests in Armenia, notably one of the country’s largest commercial banks. Forbes magazine estimates his total assets at $1.3 billion.
Over the last 15 years, Vardanyan has increasingly financed charitable projects in Armenia, including the construction of a 5.7-kilometer cable car line leading to the medieval Tatev Monastery. Together with two other Armenian Diaspora philanthropists, he also set up in 2015 the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, an annual international award in memory of the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
Vardanyan received Armenian citizenship in June 2021 and is understood to have mostly lived in his home country since then.
On September 1, 2022 the tycoon announced that he has decided to renounce his Russian citizenship and move to Karabakh. He said that after the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijan war “many people in Artsakh started feeling that they have been abandoned.”
He noted that the one and a half months of meetings with the people of Artsakh,, its political and public figures, representatives of various communities and social groups have convinced him that the people support his candidacy for the post of the State Minister and want to see him as a responsible leader who will rally all the healthy forces around him and lead the real work to pull the country out of crisis.
“I believe that after the 2020 war, we, Armenians of the whole world, must be together with Artsakh,” Vardanyan said, adding that after settling in Karabakh he will move all his assets in Russia to his family fund.
Early this month, Arayik Harutiunyan, the Karabakh president, said he has offered Vardanyan to become his state minister. Harutiunyan expressed readiness to give him wide-ranging powers.
“I realize that there is no more time to think [about the proposal] for a long time, and in this situation I have no other way than to stand with the people of Artsakh and take my share of responsibility for the future of Artsakh,” Vardanyan said in his statement.