By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijan has officially condemned the planned conduct of a presidential election in Nagorno-Karabakh as an attempt to solidify Armenian control over what it regards as an Azerbaijani territory.
In a statement reported late Thursday, the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry repeated its position that such votes can not be legitimate without a restoration of Baku’s sovereignty over Karabakh and return of the disputed region’s Azerbaijani minority.
"The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry repeats that the unrecognized separatist regime on the occupied Azerbaijani territories is nothing than an illegal structure set up by Armenia on the basis of ethnic cleansing of the Azerbaijani population," the statement said. “The so-called election is held to cover up Armenia's annexation policy and is aimed at strengthening the ongoing occupation of the Azerbaijani territories.”
The Azerbaijani government has similarly condemned the previous presidential and parliamentary elections in Karabakh. Some of those polls were also criticized by the international community, which said they hamper the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.
Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) always rejected the criticism, saying that the Karabakh Armenians need to be represented in the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks by their elected representatives. The U.S., Russian and French mediators meet with NKR leaders during their regular visits to the conflict zone.
The mainly ethnic Armenian voters in Karabakh will go to the polls on July 19 to elect a replacement for their outgoing President Arkady Ghukasian, who has been in power for almost a decade. Bako Sahakian, Ghukasian’s handpicked successor endorsed by the NKR’s four main political parties, is seen as the favorite to win the election.
Ghukasian on Monday pledged to ensure that the vote is free and fair, saying that that would facilitate international recognition of Karabakh’s de facto secession from Azerbaijan. “Even if the international community formally doesn’t recognize this election, it can not fail to take note of its [proper] conduct,” he told university students in Yerevan.
“I’m afraid of sounding immodest, but I will say that Karabakh always holds the best elections in the post-Soviet space,” said Ghukasian.
However, Sahakian’s main challenger, who served as Karabakh’s deputy foreign minister until recently, was reported on Friday to have dismissed such pledges. The Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” quoted Masis Mayilian as saying that the authorities in Stepanakert are illegally using their “administrative resources” ensure the Ghukasian-backed candidate’s victory. Mayilian also accused them of discouraging local residents from attending his campaign meetings.