Thursday, 23 February 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... Artsakh Referendum
Polls close in Artsakh Referendum: Voter turnout reaches 76.44 percent
20 Feb 2017 

Artsakh held a referendum on new Constitution today. 79 314 citizens or 76.44 percent of the eligible voters cast their vote in the polls, the Central Referendum Commission informs. 

The number of eligible voters was 102 757. The voting took place at 280 polling stations, including one in Yerevan. 

Feb 20 2017
Referendum to create 'Republic of Artsakh' on Europe's fringe
Andrew Rettman

Some 100,000 ethnic Armenians are voting on a new name for their territory and new powers for their leader on Monday (20 February) in the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s artillery and missiles.

The referendum, in what used to be called the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, but what is likely to be called the Republic of Artsakh after the vote, comes in reaction to Azerbaijan’s military assault last April, which claimed between 50 and 350 lives on both sides.

The conflict, which dates back to the break-up of the Soviet Union, and which sees almost daily exchanges of fire on the line of contact, has the potential to quickly escalate into a fight between Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh’s neighbour and sponsor, and Azerbaijan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are both negotiating new treaties with the EU as part of its Eastern Partnership policy to build closer ties with former Soviet states.

But if the conflict escalates, with missiles striking Yerevan and Baku, that policy would be in tatters, with thousands of refugees instead fleeing to Europe.

It would disrupt Azerbaijan’s oil exports to the EU and plans to build a new gas pipeline, reducing dependence on Russia.

It could also draw in Russia, which has a treaty obligation to defend Armenia, Nato member Turkey, which has pledged to side with Azerbaijan, and Iran, which does not want to see Azerbaijan extend control over its northern border and exert more influence over the ethnic Azeri population in Iran’s northern regions.

This story is the first in a series of features by EUobserver that will examine the issues and look at the lives of ethnic Armenians in a situation which some believe is leading “inevitably” to Europe’s next war. ’We exist’

“It’s not because they don’t recognise us, that we don’t exist,” said an official in Nagorno-Karabakh’s “foreign ministry” in its capital, Stepanakert, on Sunday, while pointing out electoral districts on a map of the mountainous region the size of Luxembourg.

Nagorno-Karabakh split from Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s that cost up to 30,000 lives and displaced more than 1 million people in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

It ended with Armenian forces occupying Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other districts in Azerbaijan which it has held on to as a buffer zone.

Various peace plans, mediated by the so-called Minsk Group, which is composed of French, Russian, and US diplomats, have come and gone over the years.

No other country has so far recognised Nagorno-Karabakh, with both the Minsk Group and the EU routinely issuing statements that its elections and referendums have no meaning.

Its government, which has unofficial contacts with EU diplomats, says that the international community could be more constructive. “They could, at least, acknowledge our efforts to create a democratic way of life while maintaining neutrality on the status issue,” a government source told EUobserver on Sunday.

The authorities also mistrust Russia, which has sold billions of euros of arms to Azerbaijan, some of which were used in last April’s four-day war.

The sense of isolation has prompted the “republic” to rely on its own resources and on Armenia to try to safeguard its future. Artsakh claim

Monday’s referendum is to alter the constitution, giving its president the power to take swift decisions on security issues and changing its name from Nagorno-Karabakh, a mixture of Russian and Turkic words, to Artsakh, an old Armenian word that implies a wider territorial claim not just to the republic, but also to the other seven occupied regions of Azerbaijan.

It is a direct reaction to the shock of Azerbaijan’s surprise attack last year.

It is also a reaction to Azerbaijan’s years-long military build-up and to increasing war rhetoric by Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev.

In a sign of the growing hostility in Baku, Aliyev, already four years ago, cancelled one of the only initiatives that tried to build bridges between people on both sides.

Inina Gzigozian, a Nagorno-Karabakh resident, who started the Public Diplomacy Initiative, an NGO, told EUobserver on Sunday that she used to bring together women from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan to “exchange stories” in neutral places, such as Cyprus or Georgia.

She spoke of one Azeri “girl” who went to Tbilisi and who initially voiced “hatred,” but who “ended up singing Armenian songs.”

That all ended in 2013 by Aliyev’s order. In today’s climate, Gzigozian said, people in Azerbaijan decline to take part even in Facebook discussions for fear of being caught by Aliyev’s internet police.

Tevan Poghosyan, an Armenian MP, believes that last April’s attack was prompted by Aliyev’s need to shore up his authority amid falling oil prices and a slump in Azerbaijan’s currency, the manat, which aggravated poverty in the Muslim petro-dictatorship.

He said in Yerevan on Saturday that without international intervention war was “inevitable” and that it was likely to happen in 2018, when Aliyev will try to hold on to power in presidential elections amid falling popularity. Provocation?

Srbuhi Arzumanian, the head of Nagorno-Karabakh’s electoral commission, told press on Sunday that 102,757 people out of the republic’s 147,000 strong population were eligible to cast a ballot.

She noted that Nagorno-Karabakh has already held two referendums and 11 other elections in its 26-year long history.

She said that 104 monitors from more than 30 countries, including three MEPs, would oversee the process.

She also promised that people who fled from Talish, a village destroyed by Azerbaijan last April, would get the chance to vote.

Arzumanian added that there was just one complaint in the last election - a demand for a recount in one district which upheld the original tally.

One of the international monitors, Hans-Jochen Schmidt, Germany’s former ambassador to Armenia, told EUobserver on Monday: “Almost everybody outside Nagorno-Karabakh considers this [the referendum] as an illegitimate act, so they are trying very hard to make sure that it lives up to international standards.”

“Of course, Azerbaijan will consider it as a provocation. They even consider elections here as provocations,” he added.

Hans-Juergen Zahorka, another monitor who is a German former MEP, said that the show of democracy in Nagorno-Karabakh poses a challenge to Aliyev ahead of his own elections next year.

“For many Azerbaijanis, this referendum is an example of opportunities that they will never have under their current system,” he said, referring to Aliyev’s increasingly totalitarian rule.

RFE/RL Report 
Sarkisian Warns Baku Against Fresh Karabakh Offensive
February 20, 2017
Sisak Gabrielian

President Serzh Sarkisian has warned Azerbaijan against launching
offensive military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh in the run-up to
Armenia's parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2.

Sarkisian also told Armenian veterans of the 1991-1994 war with
Azerbaijan to be prepared for renewed fighting around Karabakh as he
addressed a weekend conference of the Yerkrapah Union, the largest of
the organizations uniting them.

"Today some in Azerbaijan still have illusions that an Armenia focused
on elections will be very distracted and therefore vulnerable," he
told conference delegates. "Based on those hollow illusions, the enemy
may try to resort to new provocations."

"I see it as my duty to declare from the podium of this conference
that any possible provocation would receive a worthy response," he
said. "Politics based on illusions cannot have a future."

Sarkisian went on to urge Yerkrapah Union members to "keep the
gunpowder dry" in the face of a persisting military threat from
Azerbaijan. "Our struggle is not finished yet," he said.

The president repeated the same message when he met with the Armenian
army's top brass on Monday. "This is why I expect utmost vigilance
from you in this period," he told army generals.

Sarkisian said his government "will save no effort" to sustain the
military balance with Azerbaijan. He also denied Azerbaijani claims
that the Armenian side is seeking to prolong the status quo. Yerevan
is committed to a peaceful Karabakh settlement based on mutual
concessions, he said.

The Armenian elections will coincide with the first anniversary of the
start of the worst fighting along the Karabakh "line of contact" since
a Russian-mediated truce stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in
1994. At least 190 soldiers from both warring sides were killed during
four-days of heavy fighting sparked an Azerbaijani offensive.

Russia as well as the two other mediating powers -- the United States
and France -- scrambled to halt the hostilities and bolster the
ceasefire regime in the conflict zone. In their latest joint statement
released on Friday, the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE
Minsk Group again stressed that "war is not an option."

Thousands of Yerkrapah members took part in the April 2016 fighting
which is now commonly referred to as "the four-day war."

In his weekend speech, Sarkisian reiterated the official Armenian line
that Baku cannot forcibly regain control over Karabakh and
Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it. "Many of you will
remember that in the early 1990s, when Azerbaijan's ministers of
defense were replaced once a week, each of them viewed his duty to
declare that in a week or a couple of days he will be drinking tea in
Stepanakert," he told the war veterans.

"However, as the history shows, through the efforts of the heroic sons
of our nation not only did they not drink tea in Stepanakert but they
were also deprived of the possibility of drinking tea in Aghdam,
Fisuli, Jabrail, Kubatli, Karvachar (Kelbajar), and other places," he
said, listing Azerbaijani towns captured by Karabakh Armenian forces
in 1993. 
EuFoA publishes interim report on Artsakh Referendum
21 Feb 2017 

The European Friends of Armenia ( ) has published its report about the referendum observation mission in Nagorno Karabakh / Artsakh Republic. The referendum on 20 February 2017 changes the local constitution to a strongly presidential system, and changes the name from formerly “Nagorno Karabakh Republic (Artsakh)” to “Artsakh Republic (Nagorno Karabakh)”.

“From all we have seen and the data we collected across Artsakh, the referendum was well administered and seen by most citizens as an obligation to respond to the threat from Azerbaijan, especially in the light of the largescale attack in April 2016. The result clearly represents the democratic choice of the people, while some improvements remain necessary to further increase local and international trust in future votes.” summarised Dr Michael Kambeck, Acting Director of EuFoA.

A full report will follow in a few weeks.

Please find the full text here .
Nearly 2 000 Boys Leave Armenia Every Year to Avoid Draft, Oppositionist Says
February 21, 2017 

Every year, around 2000 pre-draft age young men leave Armenia to avoid military conscription, Aram Manukyan, a lawmaker with the opposition Armenian National Congress party, said in a press conference on Tuesday.

“This is evidence of the impact that the everlasting semi-war state has had on Armenia’s economy, and the serious psychological effects it has had on the people and their lives. The increasing number of deaths in the army in recent years has not helped the situation either. I’ve studied the results of the researches conducted by [Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor office head] Artur Sakunts, which evidently show that the statistics have been growing more and more gruesome with every passing year. In the years following the [Nagorno-Karabakh] war, an average of 40-50 soldiers would die annually in the army; in 2015, however, the number amounted to 80 and reached its height in 2016, with 160 deaths. In the current year, we have already had 11 soldier deaths,” Manukyan stressed.

According to the lawmaker, the state authorities’ failure to take steps to stop the “deadly process” is one of the greatest problems facing Armenia. “I’m sorry to say, but soldiers’ deaths in wartime are somewhat justified: they die defending their country. But this debilitating status has been ongoing since the war ended 23 years ago, and nothing is being done to overcome it,” Manukyan said.

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