Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian sounded optimistic about the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh's economic prospects at the start of a two-day visit to the disputed territory, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Echoing statements by the Karabakh Armenian leadership, Sarkisian said on August 1 that the local economy will grow faster in the coming years.
"The existing indicators give us reason to hope that in the coming years Nagorno-Karabakh's economy will enjoy a steady pace of development," he told journalists. "The rates of growth registered in recent years are also quite impressive."
"The accumulated potential is such that we can say there will be a steady development of the economic system both this year and in the next three years," Sarkisian said.
According to official statistics, Karabakh's gross domestic product -- mostly generated by agriculture and food processing -- increased by 5.5 percent in real terms to 118 billion drams ($330 million) last year. The rate of economic growth accelerated to 9.7 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Sarkisian, who was accompanied by Armenia's justice and agriculture ministers, spoke to reporters after holding talks with Karabakh's de facto leaders, Bako Sahakian and Ara Harutiunian.
A statement issued by the Armenian government's press office said the talks focused on socioeconomic issues. It said that "special attention was paid to the agricultural sector and the implementation of joint projects."
"I find such meetings extremely important because we manage to clarify everything," Sarkisian said.
He also visited three manufacturing enterprises and a big cattle farm in Karabakh's eastern Askeran district. He is expected to meet with farmers and inspect Karabakh Armenian military bases today.
Karabakh, which has a population of about 140,000, has grown closely integrated with Armenia, both politically and economically, since winning de facto independence from Azerbaijan in a 1991-94 war.
Despite rebuilding much of the local war-ravaged infrastructure and sharply increasing tax revenues over the past 17 years, the authorities in Stepanakert remain heavily dependent on annual budgetary subsidies from Armenia.
According to the Finance Ministry, those subsidies were more than 19 billion drams ($52 million) in the first half of this year.