By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia hopes that Azerbaijan’s newly elected president will continue his father and predecessor Heydar Aliev’s efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Friday. But he said Yerevan will not congratulate Ilham Aliev on his disputed electoral victory, citing the absence of such “traditions” between the two warring nations.
“We have no tradition of mutual congratulations,” Oskanian told reporters, in the first official Armenian reaction to the dynastic succession in Azerbaijan. “So I think there will be no congratulations on our part.”
President Robert Kocharian did not receive any letters of congratulation from Baku when he secured a second term in office in a similarly controversial vote last March.
“Armenia will work with the newly elected president on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. We hope that he will be able to continue negotiations which were conducted and brought to a certain point by the previous president,” Oskanian said, echoing his earlier calls for a policy “continuity” in Baku. He also expressed hope that Azerbaijan will avoid political turmoil in the wake of Wednesday’s election strongly criticized by international observers.
A monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote fell short of democratic standards due to numerous instances of ballot-stuffing, voter intimidation and other violations reported by its 628 observers. The OSCE issued similar reports after both rounds of voting in the Armenian presidential elections.
The U.S. State Department pointed to those irregularities on Thursday, in Washington’s first reaction to the Azerbaijani authorities’ handling of the poll. "U.S. observers noted, specifically, problems with voter lists, cases of coercion and other irregularities," department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said. "We are also concerned by reports of violent clashes after the election and we urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint."
U.S. reaction to Kocharian’s disputed reelection was more critical and strongly-worded. In a March 7 statement, the State Department said it is “deeply disappointed” with reports of serious fraud. “Armenia’s leadership missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election,” department spokesman Richard Boucher said at the time.
(AP-Photolur photo: A man wearing a traditional Azeri fur hat stands in front of a pre-election poster in downtown Baku on October 12. The poster depicts Heydar Aliev, right, and his son Ilham.)