A Controversial Vote for the Disputed Territory of Nagorno
By Rovshan Ismayilov: 11/05/05
One of the least reported election races for the Azerbaijani
parliament but one of the most controversial
is occurring in #122 Khankendi constituency. To much of
the outside world, the name may mean nothing. But to Azerbaijanis,
the name Khankendi says one thing: Nagorno Karabakh.
Khandkendi is the Azeri name for Stepanakert, the capital
of the self-declared, ethnic Armenian Nagorno Karabakh Republic,
territory that Azerbaijan claims as its own.
Azerbaijans Central Election Commission created the
122nd Khankendi Constituency on August 12 following a presidential
decree announcing that parliamentary elections would be
held nationwide; on August 16 members of the election commission
were elected, thereby paving the way to the first elections
in this territory.
The issue of the Khankendi constituency remained
open for a long time because we were waiting for the settlement
of the conflict in the near future. But we cannot violate
the right of Azerbaijan citizens anymore and decided to
announce [that the] election [would be held] in this part
of the country, CEC Chairman Mazahir Panahov said
at an August 16 sitting of the commission. The Commission
urged the citys Armenian population, now living under
a separatist government, to participate in the elections,
but failed to arrange opportunities for online voting that
would have permitted this process.
All of the 3,284 voters recorded in the constituencys
voter lists are IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) who
mostly live in camps located in Baku, and the regional cities
of Ganja, Naftalan and Sumgayit.
On November 6, Azerbaijani voters from the capital of the
disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh voted for a representative
to Azerbaijans parliament. The CEC had originally
come up with a total of 7,000 voters in for the constituency,
based upon data from the State Committee for Refugees. However,
after checking the number of voters still resident in Azerbaijan
and eligible for voting, the number was revised.
The decision to hold elections in this constituency was
widely supported across Azerbaijans political spectrum.
Candidates and political experts, however, concede that
the challenges involved in holding the vote and monitoring
it are immense.
Arkadiy Gukasyan, leader of the self-declared Nagorno Karabakh
Republic, has rejected all possiblity of Armenian-origin
voters in the Karabakh capital taking part in elections
for the Azerbaijani parliament. I am glad that the
Azerbaijan government has not lost its sense of humor,
Gukasyan told the Russian Regnum News in August.
Armen Melikyan, the separatist governments foreign
minister, sees only one possible way for Nagorno Karabakhs
Armenian population to take part in Azerbaijans parliamentary
elections. It is possible if the Azerbaijan Republic
and Nagorno Karabakh will sign a bilateral agreement on
dual citizenship, Melikyan told GazetaSNG.ru that
Despite the fact that Armenian-origin constituency voters
will not have a chance to vote, the Khankendi Election Commission
contains one ethnic Armenian, Svetlana Gorchiyeva.
Gorchiyeva, who lived in the city, then also known as Stepanakert,
during Soviet times, now resides in Baku with her Azeri
husband and children. I expect the results will be
free and fair, Gorchiyeva said, adding that she wants
the elections to help achive peace in region.
Gorchiyeva said that she is sorry that there was no chance
for the Karabakh capitals Armenian population to take
part in the process. I hope that in the next elections,
international organizations will help the Armenian population
to vote, Gorchiyeva said.
For assistance in holding the election, CEC Chairman Mazahir
Panahov applied to the Baku office of the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and to the office
of Ambassador Andjey Kasprshik, head of the OSCE monitoring
mission for the Armenian-Azerbaijani confict and to the
OSCE Minsk Group, the body charged with monitoring peace
talks on Nagorno Karabakh. Citing the lack of time necessary
to prepare for the vote, however, the OSCE did not assist
the CEC with its plans.
The CEC decided to proceed, albeit without any voters currently
living within the Karabakh capital able to take part. Vidadi
Mahmudlu, a CEC representative nominated by the opposition
Musavat Party, said that the lack of Armenian-origin-voters
for the vote is not a reason for postponing or canceling
the election in the 122nd constituency. According
to the election legislation, the number of voters taking
part in an election does not affect their result. If even
10 voters will take part in the elections, the results will
be valid, Mahmudlu told EurasiaNet.
One hour before the close of voting, 42.05 percent of the
constituencys voters had cast their ballots, the CEC
For now, international organizations are keeping mum about
how the creation of the Karabakh constituency will affect
peace talks over the disputed territory, if at all. Yuri
Merzlyakov, the Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group
does not believe that the Azerbaijani governments
decision to hold elections in Karabakh albeit remotely
-- would prove popular among Karabakh Armenians. I
hardly can forecast how this decision will affect the negotiation
process. Let us see
Merzlyakov told the Regnum
news agency in August.
Six candidates competed in the constituencys race;
there were two withdrawals. The opposition Birlik (Unity),
Islahat (Reforms) and Azadlig (Freedom) election alliances
nominated candidates for the constituency, although the
ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP New Azerbaijan
Party) did not. Aydin Mirzazade, a member of parliament
and a member of the YAP Political Council, said that the
partys list had been published before the CEC came
up with the decision to try to hold elections in the #122
Isi Bagirov, 45, the opposition Azadlig blocs candidate
in the constituency, said that is eager to represent both
Azeri and Armenian communities from the town in the Azerbaijani
parliament. I was born and grew up in Khankendi. I
lived there and worked as a deputy director of the condenser
factory until 1989 when I became an IDP. I know the city
and the people of Khankendi better than anyone else and
they know me. I know the problems of IDPs from Khankkendi
and understand their needs. That is why I decided to run
from this constituency, he said. The campaigns
chief difficulty was traveling between various IDP camps
to meet with voters, Bagirov added.
Bagirov contributed to the opposition Musavat Partys
Ugur (Success) peace plan for settlement of the 17-year-long
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and says that he looks forward
to a time when both communities will co-exist in the Karabakh
town as part of Azerbaijan. It will happen sooner
or later because the 21st century is not the time for long-term
enmity, Bagirov said.
Candidates in the 122nd Khankendi constituency are not the
only ones who experienced difficulties running a campaign
to target voters in disparate locations. There are ten constituencies
besides the #122nd which represent other Nagorno Karabakh
regions and other occupied territories.
Lack of sufficient funds to bring their message to voters
is another problem cited by candidates in these constituencies.
The financial support payments made to IDP voters by the
government are another concern. [IDP voters] are more
dependent on government administrations than the non-IDP
voters, said Dadash Alishev, an independent candidate
from the 125th Zangilan-Gubadli constituency, an Armenian-occupied
According to Azer Sariyev, the spokesman of CEC, candidates
from occupied territories did not have extra financing from
state budget. All candidates were able to use 1 million
manats (about $217) for their campaign. All the rest [of
their campaign money] should be invested by themselves,
Editors Note: Rovshan Ismayilov is a freelance journalist
based in Baku.
Want more stories?
Go to the News & Views Archive