- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 October 3, 2003 

Elections in Azerbaijan: Karabakhis want Ilham Aliev to be president

Isa Gambar, the leader of Musavat party is one of the strong contenders in the presidential race in Azerbaidjan.

Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh republic would like Ilham Aliev to become the next president of Azerbaijan, replacing his father, Heidar.

Presidential elections will be held in Azerbaijan October 15 and could have an impact on relations with Karabakh and the two countries' nine-year-old ceasefire and stagnant efforts at a peace agreement.

A recent poll by the socio-political organization Democratic Reforms and Human Rights surveyed 500 Karabakhis. Sixty-three percent responded that under president Ilham it will be possible to maintain the ceasefire. They also don't rule out the possibility that Ilham Aliev would agree to recommence negotiations on the settlement of the conflict under the aegis of OSCE Minsk Group with the participation of Karabakh's elected officials. (As a "break-away republic", most international diplomatic agencies do not officially recognize Karabakh's legitimacy, even in solving its own border disputes.)

Cautious Karabakh authorities are not saying who their choice would be for their neighbor's president. Informed sources say official Stepanakert would prefer to see a predictable politician aimed at constructive negotiations, and that Ilham Aliev could become such a politician.

"Ilham Aliev can play a positive role in the search of a mutually acceptable settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," said head of Information and Analysis Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh Leonid Martirosyan.

As Martirosyan says one of the main contenders of Azerbaijan opposition for the presidential post, leader of Musavat political party Isa Gambar had already been in power in 1992-1993.

"That power launched the war against Karabakh," reminds Martirosyan. He further expresses doubt that after being elected neither Isa Gambar nor Etibar Mamedov, leader of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, who is also a strong contender in the elections, will wish to recommence negotiations on the settlement of the conflict in a constructive course with participation of the Karabakh side.

Haykaz Ghahriyan, chief editor of the governmental newspaper "Azat Artsakh" (Independent Karabakh) publishing in Stepanakert in Russian and Armenian languages, takes a different view.

"After being elected none of the present contenders will be holding negotiations with participation of Nagorno-Karabakh," he says. "Constructive approaches towards achievement of the mutually acceptable settlement of the conflict are not included into election programs of all candidates, including Ilham Aliev."

According to Ghahriyan's opinion, there must be political will for the dialogue with Karabakh but all present candidates lack that will.

"It is confirmed by the public threats issued during election speeches of all candidates promising to resolve the Karabakh problem by military means in case if Armenia doesn't agree with position of Azerbaijan concerning the settlement of the conflict," says Ghahriyan.

The head of Democratic Reforms and Human Rights (non-governmental organization), Georgy Ghazaryan, says not to trust pre-election speeches because he believes they are of an openly populist nature.

"Azerbaijan is an unpredictable country and that's why it is not clear what each of the candidates is going to do in case of victory at the elections," he says.

Meanwhile, many ordinary people of Karabakh (NKR), especially in villages, are indifferent about the upcoming presidential elections.

One reason for such indifference is the lack of the access here to the statements of Azerbaijan media. Programs of Baku television and radio are not broadcast in Karabakh. Baku newspapers and magazines are not sold in kiosks here. The population of NKR gets all information about pre-election situation in Azerbaijan mainly from Yerevan and Stepanakert print and on-line media. As a rule that information doesn't uncover the entire picture of the events taking place in Azerbaijan.

The Aliev son is likely to succeed his father as president.

Another reason for the lack of the interest is that most believe hostilities will not resume, regardless of who gets elected. The majority of Karabakh residents are mainly concerned with internal, socioeconomic problems, solutions of which are complicated by the fact of unrecognizing the self-proclaimed republic.

However, independent observers agree that interest of Nagorno-Karabakh rural population in the elections is increasing with the approach of the election. Observers explain their point of view with the fact that with the approach of the elections main Russian TV channels, which programs are broadcast and enjoy great popularity here, will start presenting much more broadcast time to covering the political situation in Azerbaijan. Thus, elections in Azerbaijan will be within eyeshot of the residents of NKR, who have more trust in the Russian version of the developing events.

(The Nagorno-Karabakh issue was raised in February 1988. The population of mostly Armenians wanted reunion with Armenia. However, on September 2, 1991 parliament of the autonomy proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh an independent state. Since 1992 settlement of the conflict has been taking place under the aegis of OSCE Minsk Group. According to the declaration of the OSCE Budapest Summit, negotiations on the settlement of the conflict had been taking place with the participation of representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as representative of Nagorno-Karabakh in the name of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the self-proclaimed republic had been taking part in those negotiations). Such a format of negotiations had remained up to the OSCE Lisbon Summit of 1996, after which new format including meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan without participation of a Nagorno-Karabakh representative had been introduced.

President of Karabakh Arkady Ghukasyan believes that meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan must not substitute the former format of negotiations with participation of Nagorno-Karabakh. He thinks that these two negotiation processes can be conducted at the same time.)


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