by Ashot Melyan

The interest to almost all elections in the post-Soviet space in the period of so called “second wave” democratization is growing with every new election, which can be explained by the fact that all such elections end up with “colored” revolutions with rare exceptions (Moldova).

That interest is even greater, if the elections are held in de facto independent states in the conditions when they are not internationally recognized and the conflicts, in which they are participating, have not yet been finally settled. The parliamentary elections in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic were in a special focus of attention, because, according to a number of international experts, there are substantial differences to compare with the other non-recognized states of the post-Soviet area.

More than 130 people from USA, Russia, Great Britain, Iran, Israel, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France, Armenia, as well as non-recognized Trans-Dniestria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia observed parliamentary elections in the NKR of June 19, 2005.

For the Nagorno Karabakh Republic it was extremely important to confirm its adherence to the course of democratic reforms and prove that, following that way, NKR distinguishes itself not only from the other non-recognized states, but, which is much more remarkable, from Azerbaijan. It is worth mentioning that one of the most influential NGOs of the United States “Freedom House” assessed the level of political and civil freedoms in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh, attaching them appropriate statuses (by the scale of freedoms “1” is the best index, and “7” is the worst).


Political freedoms

Civil freedoms





Not free




Partly free

Nagorno Karabakh



Partly free

In addition, in the context of the recent elections in the NKR it is important to emphasize that the parliamentary track can become one of the most perspective components of the peace process, which is quite frequently mentioned in the international structures, interested in settlement of the South Caucasian conflicts, establishment of confidence among the conflicting parties, creation of some regional system of security, stability and integration.

So to the contrary of predictions, the oppositional bloc “Movement-88” – “Dashnaktsutiun,” which had some success last year in the elections to the local-government bodies (in particular, the leader of the mentioned “Movement-88” E. Aghabekian became a Mayor of the NKR capital town of Stepanakert), has lost the parliamentary elections, winning only three seats in the 33-seat National Assembly, and only by party lists. It is considered as a failure of the opposition.

What does such a result of elections mean and how may it impact on the fate of the non-recognized state?

It is necessary to note from the beginning that the revolution in the NKR was not predicted; with all their oppositional ideas and plans of a number of parties and individual candidates and intemperance in their rhetoric, any overthrow of the present power was not planned by any of them. Those observers and experts, who predicted some success of the opposition, meant it would be legitimate and only via elections.

Undoubtedly, the fact that the conflict has not been settled so far, impacted on the course of the elections in the NKR. In all program points related to foreign policy, the authorities and the opposition had no any principle disagreements, they all demanded NKR’s return to the negotiating process and supported continuation of the course aimed at international recognition of the republic.

It is also worth mentioning the following circumstances: first, in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic the Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Dashnaktsutiun” (ARFD) is in firm opposition to the NKR authorities, meanwhile in Armenia the ARFD is member of the ruling coalition; second, people voted not so much for the parties, but rather for the personalities in those parties. Third, the opposition, which was mainly represented by the alliance of two forces with different ideological views – the right-wing liberal Movement-88 and the leftist ARFD, united exclusively on the hostility toward the NKR leadership, in the end failed due to overestimation of its abilities, making its stake on the protest electorate, the number of which was much less than the alliance had expected.

The spectrum of oppositional slogans was quite wide, but taking into account the specific situation with the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the most actual slogans pointed out the limited time, meaning that NKR should move forward faster than the CIS member states, and that the NKR needs a revolution “from above.”

Apparently, the authorities of the non-recognized republic understand it very well: the Electoral Code was significantly changed, for the first time 33 Deputies of the NKR National Assembly were elected by majority and proportional systems; the procedure and structure of the Election Commissions were changed; the ballot-boxes were transparent also for the first time.

In the context of the potential solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the reaction of international interested structures is very important, and they, unlike the cases of previous elections in the NKR, this time did not make any statement on the occasion of the parliamentary elections in the NKR, which can be considered as understanding that it is impossible to deprive the peoples of non-recognized states, and in particular, the NKR, from the right to build their life democratically, from election of their “elected representatives” (as it is mentioned in the OSCE documents), and as their mute agreement to support building democracy in the non-recognized republic.

According to international observers, the elections in the NKR were in full compliance with international law and international standards, and individual technical shortcomings (e.g. with the lists of voters) did not impact the result of the elections.

The Russian observers made a special statement confirming “apparent democratic achievements in the NKR” and pointing out that the elections “demonstrated the dynamic development of the civil society in Nagorno Karabakh.” In particular, they noted that “these elections are another step toward the peaceful and civilized settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

That point was also emphasized by their American colleagues from the Public International Law and Policy Group Delegation, consisted of experienced diplomats and political scientists. In their preliminary report they particularly noted progress in exercising civilian control over the military by the Nagorno Karabakh authorities, introduction of the proportional system as the main steps toward democracy. They also paid a special attention to the quiet situation and the lack of any intimidation, which gave a basis to consider the elections free and transparent. The U.S observers emphasized that the elections showed “Nagorno Karabakh’s ability to create quite an effective system of governance, which is the basis of the right to self-determination.”

According to the Co-Chairman of the Group “ James Hooper, “NKR is a small state with a big democratic future.”. Representative of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group Mark Almond stated that he witnessed “a full-scale electoral process, which should be taken as an example by many recognized states. The Deputy of the State Duma (Parliament) of the Russian Federation, Director of the CIS States Institute Konstantin Zatulin said that there is a fashion in the world to treat the non-recognized states badly, blaming them in the lack of statehood, which very often pushes the leaders of such states to authoritarianism. “In Karabakh’s case, – said Konstantin Zatulin, – the standards of democracy there are much higher than in the opposing state.”

Azerbaijan, which also has to hold elections in November 2005, was especially negative in its reaction to the NKR elections. The striking contrast in the levels of democratization of societies of the two parties to the unresolved conflict between NKR and Azerbaijan is not only a factor to support many juridical arguments in favor of de jure recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, but is also the evidence that the Azerbaijani claims for Nagorno Karabakh are now all the more doubted by the international community.

The success of further democratization of the public life of the NKR will depend not only on how soberly the authorities will assess their success in the parliamentary elections and, respectively, on how objective the opposition and individual candidates will be in evaluation of their failure. Anyway, not only all participants of the elections, but also of the domestic political process know very well that escalation of the internal tension, division of the society – it is a ruinous way for society and the republic in the conditions when the conflict with Azerbaijan has not yet settled and the cease-fire is based only on the balance of forces, and not on the comprehensive peace agreement.

July 28, 2005