AAA: Armenia This Week – 08/09/2004

Monday, August 9, 2004

The Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) last Sunday held its third nationwide,
local elections since independence. The race for the Stepanakert mayor was
one of the most tightly contested, with the incumbent mayor defeated and two
candidates advancing to the second round. In all, 381 candidates sought the
posts of town and village mayors and 1,591 ran for seats on local municipal
councils. The NKR Central Election Commission reported that over 60 percent
of those eligible voted throughout NKR.

In Stepanakert, Pavel Najarian, former manager of a local state-owned
construction company, led the poll with 43 percent of the vote. Chairman of
the Parliamentary Committee for Social Affairs Eduard Aghabekian was a
strong second with 35 percent. The incumbent Stepanakert mayor Hamik
Avanesian was a distant third with 9 percent, while two other candidates,
businessman Iosif Adamian and lawyer Vazgen Hairapetian won 8 and 6 percent
respectively. The run-off vote has been set for August 22.

Of the two top candidates, the government is said to favor 53-year-old Pavel
Najarian. Although NKR President Arkady Ghoukasian did not publicly endorse
any of the candidates, the pro-presidential Democratic Artsakh Union, which
has the largest faction in Parliament, withdrew its support from the
unpopular incumbent and is backing Najarian. Graduate of the Yerevan
Polytechnic Institute, Najarian worked in construction most of his life,
with the exception of a brief stint as the Deputy Mayor of Stepanakert
(1993) and service in the Karabakh Army (1994-7).

The other top candidate, 40-year-old parliamentarian Eduard Aghabekian, was
trained as a pharmacist at the Yerevan Medical Institute and the University
of California. He is a decorated veteran of the Karabakh war and had worked
as Deputy Minister of Health from 1997 to 1999. Last April, Aghabekian was
one of the initiators of the Movement-1988 organization, which aims to raise
civic awareness and action against corruption. Aghabekian’s candidacy was
endorsed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which has the second
largest parliamentary faction.

In a pre-election poll of 300 residents conducted by the Artsakh
Journalists’ Union, over 50 percent said they were dissatisfied with the
handling of past local elections and 46 percent said effectiveness of the
local government has not lived up to their expectations. Most respondents
blamed the faulty local self-government law, which they believe fails to
provide local officials with sufficient authority. In 1997, NKR became first
in the Caucasus to elect its local administration officials and is the only
regional entity, where the capital’s mayor is chosen through elections.
(Sources: R&I Archive; ; Noyan Tapan 7-28, 8-5, 9;
Arminfo 8-9; IWPR Caucasus Report 7-30)

Azeri officials continue their barrage of threats, demands and complaints
directed at Armenia and NKR. Just in the last week, spokesman for the Azeri
Defense Ministry Ramiz Melikov promised to do away with the Armenian state
in “25 to 30 years” and incorporate its territory into Azerbaijan. “This
people has been a nuisance for its neighbors and has no right to live in
this region,” Melikov said.

The Defense Ministry spokesman predicted that the “world Armenian cabal”
would face certain ruin. Not just yet, however, as the senior official in
the ruling New Azerbaijan Party Ali Ahmedov dismissed the human rights
criticism of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, alleging that it was
under Armenian influence.

Also last week, the Azeri government, which continually threatens to unleash
a new war in Karabakh, protested the holding of annual maneuvers of the
Karabakh Army. The Azeri Central Election Commission, widely chastised for
rubber-stamping the dynastic power transfer in Azerbaijan last year,
protested the holding of a competitive municipal election in Karabakh. The
state-controlled and scandal-plagued Football Federation of Azerbaijan, in
its turn complained about the plans for holding a soccer competition in

With aggressive rhetoric continuing unabated, a public opinion poll
conducted in 2003 and published last month found strong public support for
peace in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. 97 percent of Armenians and 93 percent
of Azeris surveyed said they desired peace, while 74 percent of Armenians
and 46 percent of Azeris want inter-ethnic relations re-established.
Significantly, there is greater support for reconciliation among the Azeris
displaced by the war (80 percent) than the general population. The American
University in Washington, DC funded the study. (Sources: R&I Archive;
Armenian-Azerbaijani poll 7-28; AP
8-4; Arminfo 8-4, 9; Zerkalo 8-4, 5)

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