LINKS to Work to Ensure High Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections in Azerbaijan

Politics Materials 16 April 2008 14:39 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku 15 April / corr Trend K.Ramazanova / Trend ' exclusive iinterview with Dennis Sammut, Executive Director of LINKS, the British non-governmental organization.

Question: What are your views about the solution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh on the basis of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan? What actions can be taken at the Parliament level to solve this conflict, taking into consideration that talks within the OSCE have yielded no fruitful results?

Answer: The international community is unanimous in saying that the Karabakh conflict should be resolved peacefully and taking into account the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. I believe also that this should be the case. The challenge for all of us is to come up with innovative ideas on ways in which this can be done that will also be acceptable to the Armenian community in Karabakh. For any solution to be successful and long-lasting all sides in the conflict should feel that they have come out of it better off than when they started.

A lot has been achieved within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Process and the sides must build on these achievements. However you are right that there is no breakthrough yet and this is frustrating a lot of people, which is why we must all think what is required now, at this particular point. Armenia and Azerbaijan have to ask themselves this question; the international community should also consider what else should be done at this point. Simply saying we have the Minsk Group and let them get on with it is not enough.

Question: What could impede the talks at this stage and is there any confidence that the new Government of Armenia will adopt a package of proposals on the conflict resolution, which was given to the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in written form at the end of last year?

Answer: We should not expect dramatic surprises from the new Armenian President and his team, but I have no reason to believe that they will not approach the negotiations with good intentions. Personal style in these situations matters also. The fact that there will be new people round the table may help to stimulate the process.

Answer: Which format may be considered as an alternative for continuing the negotiations? Will the international community accept the military way of conflict regulation?

Answer: Frankly speaking a new military confrontation in the South Caucasus will be a disaster for the region and its people in many ways. We should focus on finding a solution that would be peaceful, just and from which all the sides can emerge better off than before they started. It's not easy but it can be done if this is everybody's objective.

People sometimes say that there are those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I find it hard to see who these people can be, because directly or indirectly everybody is loosing in the present situation. The worst off are the people who have been displaced by the conflict - the refugees and IDPs. But people in Baku and Yerevan are suffering the consequences of the conflict too. We live in an increasingly globalize world. A peaceful South Caucasus can become a natural bridge between Europe and Asia and between Russia and the Middle East, opening up tremendous opportunities for the next generations.

Question: Why South Caucasus parliament initiative group does not hold any meetings? How true the leaving of the Armenia from this initiative is?

Answer: From 2001 to 2007 my organization facilitated a dialogue process between the parliaments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia called the South Caucasus Parliamentary Initiative. It was an excellent confidence building measure. The meetings were always difficult but the approach from all participants was always very positive.

In 2007 we came at a crossroads in terms of how to take the work forward. It is where we are today. There has been a pause of more than eight months, and to be fair this was a difficult period for the region. I think it is now time to move again on this issue. The Armenians have not informed anybody that they have left the initiative. But I agree they need to be more active. LINKS will work to restart the work after the Georgian Parliamentary elections in May. The international community needs also to support the process more systematically.

Question: How do you see the perspective turning of the South Caucasus initiative group to the Parliament assembly of the South Caucasus? How the South Caucasus will approach to this issue?

Answer: Turning the South Caucasus Parliamentary Initiative into the South Caucasus Parliamentary Assembly will be an important symbolic step that would indicate progress. I think we should keep it in our focus. But I am much keener on giving this parliamentary dialogue process more substance in terms of content. A year ago at the last Plenary Assembly meeting in Dubai the delegations of the three parliaments adopted an important and very realistic report on work in the spheres of Banking, Environment and Transport. It was a report that had been worked out together. It was realistic because it stated clearly that most things will have to wait until the Karabakh conflict is resolved. We need to build on this work. The parliamentary initiative can provide the umbrella for work in different spheres

I would also like to see more meetings of the Parliamentary Initiative in the region itself. We had a few small meetings in Tbilisi but we need to think of meetings in Baku and Yerevan also.

Question: LINKS implemented some projects with Azerbaijani parliament. So in which fields you found main problems and what should be done to avoid these problems?

Answer: Azerbaijan is changing very fast and the Milli Meclis needs to keep up. Parliament should be the most interesting and representative forum for political debate in the country. Parliament needs also to have a more robust mechanism for overseeing the work of the Executive. Some of the work methods of the parliament need to be modernized. The parliament needs to communicate better with the citizens and be more open to the general public. LINKS was the first foreign organization to engage with the Milli Meclis on these issues. Our work will soon come to an end but after us the Americans through USAID have also launched a project and the European Commission also has a twinning project coming up. This is very good because what we could do up to now is touch the surface. I think the Chairman of the Milli Meclis Mr Ogtay Asadov has a lot of interesting ideas on how the work of the parliament can be more effective and we must all help him to realize them.

Question: Which programs LINKS intent to apply during the presidential election in Azerbaijan?

Answer: We would like to see a new style of the way politics is done in Azerbaijan. The Presidential elections will show us if this is possible. From our side we will try to help in any way we can to ensure that Azerbaijan has a good election - a good campaign that would give the voter a choice; a fair and well organized election; a transparent counting process. In Azerbaijan - like in most other places in Europe the worst enemy of politics is apathy. LINKS will work primarily to ensure a high voter turnout, especially amongst young people.

The correspondent an be contacted at trend@