(Reuters) - Hava Mamedova is confident she will be elected to Azerbaijan's parliament when voters go to the polls on Sunday, but she will have an uphill task representing her electorate; the constituency is behind enemy lines.
Election district No. 122 where Mamedova is running is in Nagorno-Karabakh -- a territory that on paper is part of Azerbaijan but for more than a decade has been controlled by Armenians who won a separatist war. The fact the election in this district is going ahead testifies to Azerbaijan's lingering nostalgia for the lost territory, and to its determination to see Karabakh reunited with the rest of the country.
But the vote throws up some bizarre contradictions. There are no longer any Azeris living in the constituency, it is virtually impossible for an Azeri citizen to go there and the Armenians now in charge say the vote is a farce.
"It will be very difficult for me to work (as a member of parliament)," said Mamedova, who is the favorite to win on Sunday, when all 125 seats in Azerbaijan's parliament, or Milli Majlis, are being contested.
District No. 122 covers Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, known to Azeris as Khankendi and to Armenians as Stepanakert. "My aim will be to tell the whole world the truth about Khankendi," said Mamedova, who has lived in Baku since fleeing the fighting in Karabakh. "I am certain that by the end of my term I will be able to visit my constituency where Azeri rule will be restored."
Nagorno-Karabakh is one of a number of conflicts that emerged in the volatile southern Caucasus region as the Soviet Union disintegrated. Georgia faces separatist rebellions, and in the northern Caucasus, Russia grapples with a Chechen uprising. Karabakh's Armenians have declared their independence, but this is recognized only by neighboring Armenia. Azerbaijan says Armenians illegally occupy Karabakh and seven surrounding districts.
Allahverdi Dolkhanov, chief election official for district No. 122, said over 3,000 former residents now in Azerbaijan had been registered to vote. They will be bussed to special polling stations scattered around the country. Armenians in Karabakh were offered the chance to vote too, but the "separatist regime ... has not given them the opportunity to exercise their civic duty," he said.
Masis Mailyan, Deputy Foreign Minister in Karabakh's separatist government, dismissed Azeri indignation. "This is not serious," he said. "The Azeris are behind the times by at last 18 years. "It is well known we are building our own state."
But Elman Guliyev, a 47-year-old Karabakh refugee who now lives in the Azeri capital, said he would be voting for his member of parliament, even if to outsiders it might seem futile. "At least I will know that this person will represent my town in my parliament," he said. "We don't want war. We just want to go back to our town."