Sabina Freizer, International Crisis Group (ICG) Project Director, shares her opinions on the political developments in Azerbaijan with Trend
Question: Can the referendum in Armenia and parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan affect on the negotiation process over peaceable resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer: There were violations during the Azerbaijani elections and the Armenian referendum. Most importantly both events showed that the local population is largely apathetic to political developments and may be losing some of its faith in European style democracy.
However if a peace process is going to be successfully implemented to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the full and active engagement of all Azerbaijanis and Armenians will be needed. No peace can be implemented that goes against the people's will. That is why it is so important for decision makers in Azerbaijan and in Armenia to start explaining to their citizens' what is occurring in the negotiations, what a peace might look like, and how it might be implemented.
Question: Does the ICG have any plans on development of documents on Azerbaijan in the nearest future?
Answer: One of the next reports that we will work on is European Union conflict prevention and resolution capabilities in the South Caucasus. We are writing this based on an agreement with the European Commission. We will of course in this context be looking at what the EU has been doing in Azerbaijan to assist in the resolution of conflict. Next year we will also continue with our work on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Earlier the ICG proposed a conduct of referendum on status of Nagorno-Karabakh. How correct does the idea seem taking into consideration that the difference between the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of the region?
Our recommendation to hold a referendum on the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh with the participation of Karabakh Azeris and Armenians is actually the last step of our peace plan. Before that happens Nagorno-Karabakh forces supported by Armenia must withdraw from all occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani IDPs return home, including to Nagorno-Karabakh, and trade and communication links restored. This will take many years. By then the whole South Caucasus region may look very different, and the divisions that currently exist between Armenian and Azerbaijani communities may be less significant. Today people think about the differences between Azerbaijanis and Armenians because there is war, but if there is peace maybe both groups will start thinking about partnership and how to best prosper in the future. My hope would be that if in 10-15 years there is a referendum people will not vote based on their ethnicity but based on other interests -- such as economic ones.
Question: How do you estimate the results of referendum held in Armenia?
Answer: Based on the International Crisis Group's observation, and information gathered from the very restricted number of international observers present, it seems that there were serious violations during the referendum. In particular it seems highly unlikely that the 65% turnout being claimed by the government is correct. In three separate Yerevan polling stations ICG observers witnessed in a 45-minute time slot no more than 10 people voting. Local observers and media also allege that there was ballot stuffing, intimidation of observers and restrictions on access to the media for the "no" camp.
Armenia had a chance this month to show its commitment to democracy and reform after a series of rigged elections since 1995, which have sown political unrest and violence. Especially the last nation wide polls in 2003 вЂњfell short of international standardsвЂ¦showed serious irregularities, including widespread ballot stuffingвЂќ according to the OSCE Election Observation Mission. Armenia urgently needs to improve its election system вЂ" before the 2007 parliamentary and 2008 presidential contests.