By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia refrained on Thursday from officially commenting on the widely predicted outcome of a disputed presidential election in its arch-foe Azerbaijan which formalized the transfer of power from ailing President Heydar Aliev to his son Ilham.
Officials in President Robert Kocharian’s staff could not be reached for comment throughout the day. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told RFE/RL that official Yerevan stands by statements on the issue made recently by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and other Armenian leaders.
Oskanian indicated earlier this month that Ilham Aliev is preferable to other presidential hopefuls because he can ensure “continuity” in Azerbaijan’s policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the number one challenge facing the two ex-Soviet neighbors. “Ilham Aliev’s advantage over other presidential candidates is that he was informed about his father’s activities,” he said. “I am convinced that he is familiar with the content of documents that were on the negotiating table.”
The Armenian leadership has repeatedly accused the senior Aliev, who has been undergoing treatment in a U.S. clinic for serious heart and kidney problems, of reneging on peace agreements reportedly reached in 2001. It hopes that those agreements will form the basis of new peace proposals which are due to be submitted the parties by international mediators in the coming weeks.
In the words of Giro Manoyan, a spokesman for the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party, the success of that initiative greatly depends on political stability in Azerbaijan. “That stability is also necessary for Armenia so that we can reach agreements [with Azerbaijan] on certain issues and put them into practice,” he said.
According to the preliminary results of Wednesday’s vote, Ilham Aliev won the presidency by a landslide with almost 80 percent of the vote. But his main opposition challenger Isa Gambar, who got only 12 percent, refuses to concede defeat, alleging massive vote rigging. Thousands of Gambar supporters clashed with riot police in Baku on Thursday as they protested against the official figures. At least two people were reported killed in the riots.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which deployed some 600 monitors across Azerbaijan, reported numerous instances of fraud and other violations before and during the balloting. The monitoring mission said in a preliminary statement that the election fell short of international standards “in several respects.”
Manoyan argued that the strong international criticism will further substantiate the Karabakh Armenians’ case for international recognition of their de facto independence. But a leading member of the Armenian opposition, Stepan Zakarian, countered that the OSCE observers’ findings are hardly more negative than their assessment of this year’s Armenian presidential election which was also marred by fraud reports.
A senior Nagorno-Karabakh official, for his part, said the disputed region’s leadership will continue to oppose its return under Baku’s rule regardless of the Azerbaijani authorities’ handling of the poll. “Whether or not Azerbaijan has a democratically elected government has no significance for the Karabakh people,” Vahram Atanesian, chairman of the Karabakh parliament’s foreign relations committee, told RFE/RL. “We don’t care with whom we will be dealing.”