Helsinki Commission Urges Alyiev to Continue Talks with Opposition

WASHINGTON (PRNewswire)–The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe–also known as the Helsinki Commission–Wednesday released the text of a letter to Azerbaijan’s President Haydar Aliyev about the forthcoming October 11 presidential election. Signed by Commission Chairman Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY)–Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ)–and Commissioner Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.)–Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.)–and Benjamin L. Cardin (D- Md.)–the letter commen’s President Aliyev for previously made changes in the election law and pledging to hold free and fair elections in accord with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe commitmen’s. Since the leading opposition parties are never the less planning to boycott the election–and no talks between the government and the opposition are taking place.

The letter calls upon Aliyev to continue negotiations which his representatives have already begun with opposition leaders "to find a mutually acceptable formula that will permit broad participation in the election."

Full Text of Letter Follows: The Helsinki Commission has been closely monitoring the preparations for the October 11 presidential election in Azerbaijan. This election is particularly significant and will have major ramifications both on your country’s democratization and on the prospects for peace in the Caucasus region.

After years of mutual suspicion and recriminations between the government and the opposition–the upcoming election offers a chance for reconciliation and the establishment of much-needed consensus within Azerbaijani society. An election deemed free and fair by Azerbaijanis and international observers will endow the government with unquestioned legitimacy and help to undo the consequences of the flawed parliamentary election of November 1995.

Moreover–a process of government-opposition reconciliation in Azerbaijan is essential to facilitate a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Though the 1994 cease fire remains in effect–the peace process–unfortunately–has bogged down. In order to restart the negotiations–the parties to the conflict will have to make difficult choices–which will not be politically feasible without strong backing from their electorates.

It is therefore all the more regrettable that major Azerbaijani opposition parties have not found it possible to take part in the election. We recognize that the election law originally passed by parliament–which the opposition found unacceptable–has been substantially modified over the last few months–with input from experts at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the (US-based) National Democratic Institute. Various deman’s put forward by the opposition have been met. Particularly important was the recent announcement of the abolition of censorship–which–we hope–will be consistently implemented–and will–in fact–signal the end of all political censorship in Azerbaijan.

We commend your willingness to make these changes in the law–and your pledge to hold free and fair elections–in accord with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe commitmen’s. Nevertheless–the opposition boycott remains in effect–primarily because of continued differences over the composition of the Central Election Commission. A presidential election without the leading opposition parties – no matter how many other candidates take part–will not promote stability or resolve the most pressing issues facing Azerbaijan at this historic juncture. With the election now less than two months away–very little time remains to reach agreement.

We urge you to redouble your efforts and continue the negotiations which your representatives have already begun with opposition leaders to find a mutually acceptable formula that will permit broad participation in the election. charitable organizations–which–since the 1988 earthquake has been consistently providing medical and humanitarian assistance to Armenia.

"The private $230-million airlift mission–bankrolled in major part by investor Kirk Kerkorian–has become the largest to any one country since the United States government’s historic Berlin airlift after World War II," characterized the LA Times article by reporter John M. Glionna reporting from Yerevan.

The extensive LA Times piece reflects on the problems plaguing Armenia for the past decade–taking time to provide background on the earthquake–the Karabakh conflict and the economic crises in Armenia.

The article focuses on the UAF missions through interviews with local residents who have been affected through the airlifts and UAF Executive Director Harut Sassounian who has been coordinating the airlifts for the past decade.

The UAF will mark its 100th airlift during a sold-out banquet scheduled for Friday–September 26–which will be attended by President Robert Kocharian–His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia–philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian–Elizabeth Dole and comedian Jay Leno.

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