Nagorno-Karabakh to choose between a bureaucrat and a soldier as the new president

Nagorno-Karabakh to choose between a bureaucrat and a soldier as the new president
Azerbaijan and Armenia waged a bitter war in the early 1990s over the region that left more than 20,000 dead and some one million displaced.
By bne IntelliNews July 19, 2017

The 33-member parliament of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh is expected to vote for the next president during a session on July 19, according to the parliament's website. The legislative body, called the National Assembly, will decide between the current president, Bako Sahakyan, and Edward Aghabekyan of the opposition Movement 88 party. The new president will be elected for three years and will have increased powers compared to his predecessors as the country voted to switch from a semi-presidential to a presidential form of governance in a referendum in February.

Nagorno-Karabakh is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the apple of discord between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which waged a bitter war in the early 1990s over the region that left over 20,000 dead and some one million displaced. The territory is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is de facto independent, though it relies heavily on Armenia and to a certain extent on Russia for military and financial support.  

Sahakyan's appeal to Armenians stems largely from his military past – he is a former deputy commander, interior minister and head of the security services. Meanwhile, Aghabekyan has held a number of political postings and served as a mayor of the capital city of Stepanakert between 2004 and 2008.

Sahakyan's profile is likely to see him win a third term in power, particularly since violence at the border between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan has intensified in recent months. Ongoing peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of the republic have not rendered a solution to date as the government of Nagorno-Karabakh is not internationally recognised, therefore does not participate in peace negotiations.

After a largely futile meeting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers in July, Moscow, which has increasingly been acting as a leading peace mediator between the two sides, is said to be making efforts to schedule another meeting between the two heads of state in September.

Peace negotiations are overseen by a special group operating under the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by Russia, the US and France. In parallel to its diplomatic efforts, Russia has been the main purveyor of armament to both Azerbaijan and Armenia to date; in fact, earlier in July, the Kremlin made another weapons delivery to Baku, according to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Regardless of the results of the election, little is expected to change as far as the conflict is concerned, because the government of Nagorno-Karabakh has little say in the future of the region.

Meanwhile, Baku heavily criticised the ballot. On July 17, Hikmet Hajiyev, a spokeperson for the Azerbaijani foreign ministry called the administration in Stepanakert a "puppet criminal regime" that is appointed by Armenia, and that is "the product of aggression and occupation and bloody ethnic cleansing".