Karabakh Marks Independence Anniversary

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–An official ceremony Thursday in Stepanakert marked the eighth anniversary of the creation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic–an important step in the region’s drive to secede from what was then Soviet Azerbaijan.

Thousands of local residents and the Karabakh’s political leadership laid flowers at a memorial to the victims of the 1991-94 war with Azerbaijan.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s declaration on September 2–1991 was followed by an independence referendum on December 10 the same year amid intensifying armed clashes with Azeri forces that grew into an all-out war.

Baku refuses to recognize the self-proclaimed republic’s de-jure existence–viewing it as an Azeri territory occupied by Armenia. No country in the world–including Armenia–has officially recognized the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an independent state–even though Karabakh Armenian officials have taken part in peace talks sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The commander of the Karabakh armed forces–General Samvel Babayan–and his top brass were conspicuously absent from the group of officials visiting the Stepanakert memorial–in a sign of persisting differences in the Karabakh government. Babayan and Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian have been locked in a serious government crisis that began last June after the latter sacked his prime minister–who was allied with the influential general. Babayan–who was replaced by General Seyran Ohanian as defense minister in July–is believed to have lost ground in the standoff. Ohanian has said his appointment marked its end.

Thursday’s ceremonies were also attended by the entire leadership of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s organization in Armenia. Hrant Markarian–a leading figure in the party–commented on the political situation in Karabakh–saying that the ARF supports "law and order" in Karabakh and "rejects everything leading to a split."

The delegation held talks with Ghoukassian behind closed doors. No details were released.

The ARF played a major role in the formation of the Karabakh Armenian army and takes a hard line on the conflict with Azerbaijan.

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