As Election Observer in Nagorno-Karabakh – Now it is the „Solidarity of Democrats“ in the EU which is required

Democracy is precious, and its tools and instruments like elections should become precious, too, wherever they are held. In the week around the 19.7.2012 I seized the occasion in being a part of the Presidential election observation mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, the long embattled piece of land with approx. 145.000 citizens, and its capital Stepanakert (54.000 pop.). I was embedded in an observer mission of the European Friends of Armenia (EuFoA), a Brussels-based organisation ( which has also a branch office in Yerevan/Armania. The observer mission was composed of eight people including one Cypriot Member of European Parliament, and under the gentle conduction of Dr Michael Kambeck, the Secretary General of EuFoA. I am not amember of EuFoA, nor was ever partisan for one of the conflict camps, and I worked as government advisor in all three South Caucasus countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.

Just for the memory: Nagorno-Karabakh has often changed its rulers in the last centuries. It was another strange decision by Stalin to leave the territory populated mainly by Armenians to Azerbaijan, and this one day after he decided that it should be attached to Armenia. Since 1988 there were concrete problems between Azeris and Armenians which culminated in a referendum that the region should be tending towards Armenia. A cruel war followed, which concretely was started by Azerbaijan, and which cost ten thousands of lives. The Azeris‘ first success in this war led to Armenian resistance, and since a ceasefire in 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh lives in relative peace, except several border skirmishes evidently provoked by Azeri troops where several soldiers from both sides have been killed at the ceasefire line and at the border. But this is not about the histroy, bt about a possible end of this conflict. Since then, the OSCE (Minsk Group) tries to bring both sides to a peaceful settlement. Armenia is ready to the Minsk Group’s proposals.

To make it short: Despite minor shortcomings which may lead to some improvements of the Election Law, e.g. on the sealing of ballot boxes etc., this election was held in an excellent and free and fair athmosphere. The incumbent president of NK who was elected with about 80% some years ago was reelected with 66,7%. I spotchecked people on the streets and was even able to predict this result (2/3 vs. 1/3). This time as a first there was an alternative who gained 32,5%, and a third candidate got 0,8%. The proceedings in the polling stations were extremely well organised, as well the counting where a part of us was present during the whole counting procedure. All which was said against the elections was in one complaint of a voter who did not show his – compulsory – passport to the polling station staff but its photocopy, and was therefore refused to take part. There was no „voting carrousel“ bringing by bus mainly soldiers or likewise from one polling station to the next …, there were lists of all voters outside all polling stations and a voter could vote only there. There is no correspondence vote in NK, which for sure will be discussed in the future. All in all, these elections have been a full democratic success, not only for formal reasons, but also as the electorate could really choose between different policies, approaches and persons.

The next step is the solidarity of democrats. In the EU, we do not yet recognize NK diplomatically. There may be for some EU Member States subjective reasons for it, but it’s clear and proven at the latest now that NK is a democratic community, sharing  the values of Europeans, as stipulated e.g. in article 2 EU Treaty or the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is in sharp contrast to the system of Azerbaijan where President Ilham Aliev who obtained this post from his father was responsible for the giant flop of marching the police against peaceful youth demonstrators just some days before the Eurovision Song Contest. There is no month in the last years where there is not a press release of OSCE against the Baku government, demanding the release of journalists, bloggers, youth NGOs, demonstrators (against the expulsions from homes needed for the ESC Palace) etc. Sometimes one of them is released, but we know authentically and directly from reports of youth NGOs that they were and are often haunted by plainclothes policemen who threaten and intimidate them. This is no democracy, and if the Council of Europe would act it should freeze the membership of Azerbaijan – or exercizes influence on the government and administration of this country, which by the way is probably the most corrupt one within the Council of Europe Member States.

I’m sorry that this country – with the income of its oil and gas industry -buys also heavy arms in an unprecedented way. Only recently, the Azeri President boasted in a 25.6.2012 address at the national Higher Military School’s graduation ceremony: „Military expenditure is our biggest budget item. Over the past few years our military spending has increased more than 20 times”, adding that the current armed forces budget of $3.6 billion is 50 percent more than Armenia’s total expenditure. These contexts have to taken into account of the European Union, and while Armenia cooperates excellently with the EU in the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, this is by far not the case with Azerbaijan. And in this situation, the Karabakhis vote in a picture book way a president and give an example to all other Caucasus election systems.

For all details, please see the original report on the election observation mission: . There will also be reports about Nagorno-Karabakh in „European Union Foreign Affairs Journal“ and about the election observation mission on the homepage of LIBERTAS – European Institute ( We already published an article by Fazil Zeynalov in EUFAJ 2/2010, p. 40, about „The conflict in Nagorny-Karabakh and the fundamental principles of international law“, from an Azeri point of view, see

For once, the European Union should show its teeth. The EU is a global player and should sometimes let others feel its soft power. We have European values, and those who are in European organisations must comply to the rules. Otherwise they should take into account the fate of Belarus which is not in the Council of Europe, because of its undemocratic policy. Nobody can afford in today’s globalized world to remain isolated anymore. Nagorno-Karabakh has delivered, and now it is the Europeans’turn.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka,

Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal


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