A Serious Blow to the Image of Nagorno Karabakh

Today Nagorno Karabakh’s parliament reelected Bako Sahakyan as president of the country for the so-called constitutional transition period. The period will last 3 years, after which there will be national elections in Artsakh.

The second term of Bako Sahakyan’s presidency was approaching the end and according to the previous constitution, he wouldn’t have been able to continue to remain in his position anymore. However, constitutional amendments were adopted in February this year, as a result of which Sahakyan was given the opportunity to run for “transitional” president, and be elected as president two additional times starting from 2020.

In other words, the constitutional amendments enabled Bako Sahakyan to become president of Nagorno Karabakh for the third time, and he has also been granted the right to run for that position for two more times.

This can lead to duration of 23 years of Bako Sahakyan’s presidency as he was first elected president in 2007, and will end in 2030 (if there are no new constitutional amendments by then). This is so typical of a classical authoritarian regime.

Is There Democracy?

In the modern lexicon, this process is called “bending the Constitution to the interests of one person”.  In other words, a constitutional amendment is carried out in order to bypass the constitutional limitation against the rule of the country by one person. We have witnessed this in Belarus, Central Asia countries, Azerbaijan and other states far from civilization.

Of course, one can claim that Bako Sahakyan and the new constitution were chosen in a democratic way and that this was the will of the people of Artsakh.  But the circumstance that the vote was not rigged still does not mean that we deal with democratic processes. We can state without doubt that elections in North Korea are not rigged either, and Kim Jong-un has more than 99% support. But that country occupies the last place on earth in terms of democracy.

In fact, Bako Sahakyan’s election as president of Nagorno Karabakh for the third term put Artsakh on the same level with Azerbaijan, where Ilham Aliev has also been elected president for three times.

But unfortunately, this is not the only anti-democratic tendency in Artsakh during the recent years. In 2015, NKR Police violently beat the representatives of the “100th Anniversary without the Regime” initiative in Berdzor. And in 2016, NKR opposition MP Hayk Khanumyan was abducted and brutally beaten. Moreover, though in both cases the names of the perpetrators were known, nobody appeared in jail, which is also characteristic of authoritarian states.

International Image

But in case of Artsakh the problem does not lie in democracy only. Here the problem is also the international image of Artsakh, which directly affects issues related to security, international support and restraining Azerbaijan.

For decades Artsakh was considered to be a relatively democratic unit that had separated from authoritarian Azerbaijan. Naturally, from the perspective of spreading democracy around the world, it would be highly undesirable to annex a democratic country to an authoritarian one.

That is what was claimed both by Armenian authorities and members of civil society. Democracy is highly appreciated by European and American officials. It is a much more important argument than calling the lands “historically Armenian”.

For those supporting democratic values, it is obvious that Artsakh should be protected from authoritarian Azerbaijan. This is the reason why no democratic state has ever applied sanctions against Armenia and Artsakh for “invading” part of Azerbaijan’s territory.

But if Nagorno Karabakh becomes almost as authoritarian as Azerbaijan and a country that does not respect human rights, the motivation to protect it from Azerbaijan will largely decrease. Artsakh will cease to be viewed as a small island of civilization with a desire to get rid of Azerbaijan, and the conflict will be viewed as a territorial dispute between the two countries (and Azerbaijan has the advantage in a territorial dispute).

However, the authorities of Artsakh prefer to beat up opposition representatives and have “lifelong” power rather than ensure the positive international image of the country.

Daniel Ioannisyan,
“Union of Informed Citizens”

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