YEREVAN, July 19 (Itar-Tass) —— The unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh Republic with a population of 137,000 will hold presidential elections on Thursday, July 19.
There are three candidates for the post: Karabakh MP Vitaly Balasanyan, incumbent President Bako Saakyan and Deputy Rector of the Stepanakert Branch of Armenian State Agrarian University Arkady Sogomonyan.
Central Election Commission Chairman Rashid Petrosyan said 273 polling stations have been set up in the republic and one more will be opened at its office in Yerevan.
According to public opinion polls, Saakyan has the best chances of winning the elections as he has been holding this post since September 2007 and will turn 52 in August. “I am sure Bako Saakyan’s opponents have no doubts about his victory,” parliament speaker Ashot Gulyan said.
These will be the fifth presidential elections in the history of Nagorno-Karabakh. The president is elected for five years. About 90,000 of more than 98,000 people eligible to vote are expected to cast their ballots.
None of the countries has recognised the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, including Armenia, which at the same time provides military, political and financial aid to Stepanakert. The international community believes that the elections can damage the settlement efforts being undertaken by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States.
At the same time, Yerevan and Stepanakert are confident that only a popularly elected leader can conduct negotiations on the settlement of the conflict.
In a special statement on Wednesday, July 18, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy reiterated that “the European Union does not recognise the constitutional and legal framework in which they will be held. These ‘elections’ should not prejudice the determination of the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh in the negotiated general framework of the peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
“I recall the EU's firm support to the OSCE Minsk Group, and in particular to the sustained efforts of its Co-chairs, aimed at a peaceful resolution of the conflict. I call on the parties to step up their efforts to find a negotiated solution to the conflict on the basis of the Madrid principles, which would allow progress beyond the status quo. I reiterate the EU's readiness to provide further support to efforts in this direction,” she said.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began on February 22, 1988. On November 29, 1989 direct rule in Nagorno-Karabakh was ended and Azerbaijan regained control of the region. However later a joint session of the Armenian parliament and the top legislative body of Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
On December 10, 1991, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum, boycotted by local Azeris, that approved the creation of an independent state.
The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after both Armenia and Azerbaijan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By the end of 1993, the conflict had caused thousands of casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides. An unofficial ceasefire was reached on May 12, 1994.