Karabakh Voters Overwhelmingly Adopt Constitution

STEPANAKERT, YEREVAN (Yerkir)–The overwhelming majority of voters–98.58 percent–in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Sunday voted to adopt a constitution for the republic. The move was hailed by President Arkady Ghoukasian, who called the referendum results "historic." Sergey Nasibian, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, announced the preliminary outcome Sunday evening. By his estimation, 87.2 percent of the Karabakh population took part in the referendum with .7 percent voting against the proposed constitution. At a press conference, Ghoukasian hailed the constitutional referendum, saying "Democracy presents a historical chance for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic."If we want recognition by the international community we should build a democratic state. I am hopeful that the world will see and realize what is going on in Nagorno Karabakh," Ghoukasian underscored. He recalled the early ’90’s when the people of Karabakh overcame shortages of gas, electricity and water and heroically defended their homeland. "We create and do not destroy. That is why we won the war. We managed to build a state and erase the remnants of the war… To reanimate hope," Ghoukasian said, adding that the international community had come to understand Karabakh’s will. "The independence of Nagorno-Karabakh is the only way to ensure peace in the region," added Ghoukasian. Armenian president Robert Kocharian congratulated the people of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the historic adoption of a constitution. "The active participation of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh in the referendum, once again, has reaffirmed their will and resolution to live in a free country. Held in conformity with high-level standards the referendum has become another milestone in building a sovereign and independent Nagorno-Karabakh," said Kocharian in a message forwarded to Karabakh’s leadership. Kocharian commended the authorities and the people of Nagorno-Karabakh for moving persistently toward the path of democracy, saying their adherence to democratic norms has been proved by a series of free and just elections. Armenian Revolutionary Federation leader and chairman of the Armenian Parliament’s standing commission on foreign affairs Armen Rustamian hailed the vote saying that the people of Karabakh asserted their right for independence. "I believe this will become a recurring message from the people of Artsakh expressing their desire to live freely," he said. "Azerbaijan should take into account this reality. Their ‘head in the sand’ policy cannot continue to be pursued. Azerbaijan will not benefit from distorting history and neglecting the reality," he remarked. International observers monitoring the vote said the process met with all international norms and regulations. "The referendum conducted on December 10, 2006 on the Nagorno Karabakh Republic constitution meets most of the standards of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international structures in terms of democratic elections, equally used for the referenda as well. The referendum followed the broad and open discussions of the draft Constitution, where the proposals of both local organizations and international experts of Constitutional Law were taken into account. The broad public confidence, which is typical of an election in the Karabakh, has impressed greatly," said a report issued by international observers and publicized by the Armenian foreign ministry press office. "The campaign was of pluralistic nature and gave an opportunity to all the political parties and unions to show their stance towards the draft Constitution to their electorates. The campaign was exercised mainly via media by having relatively a few numbers of big meetings. "The Central Referendum Commission (CRC) has made praise-worthy efforts to conduct this election in a professional and trustworthy manner and the due respect and honor should be given to the election administration for their endeavors under tough conditions. "Transparent ballot-boxes were used during the referendum that ensured more transparency for the voting. "The remarks made by the observers and the shortcomings in the work of the referendum commissions, which were rather of a technical nature, were taken into account and the necessary steps were undertaken to eliminate them. The counting of the votes in the polling stations visited by us was exercised effectively and transparently," concluded the report. "Observers were free to attend any polling station," said Italian human rights activist, Luciano Ardesi, who was an international observer of the referendum. He said "all international standards were respected, the voting was free and transparent and the referendum was legitimate on the whole." Ardesi concluded that the referendum was aimed not against anyone but at freedom and democracy. "The people of Nagorno Karabakh have the right to express their will. Each nation has right to self-determination. The international community should recognize Nagorno Karabakh’s right to independence or re-joining with Armenia," said Ardesi who pledged to report on the referendum to the Italian government and United Nations. The OSCE and the Council of Europe were quick to brush aside the referendum and each issued announcement not recognizing the vote. A statement issued by Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis said. "This Sunday’s vote organized by the ‘de facto’ authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot have any legal validity. It will not be recognized by the international community and is therefore of no consequence."A lasting solution for Nagorno-Karabakh can only come out of the political process facilitated by the Minsk Group. Any future solution must respect human rights, and if it is submitted to popular consultation, the vote must be free and fair and open to everyone. "The main responsibility for the settlement is with the political leadership of Armenia and Azerbaijan and especially President Kocharian and President Aliyev. This is one of the accession commitmen’s of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe," concluded the statement. International peace brokers from the OSCE Minsk Group reacted Monday to the constitutional referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh saying in a statement that hoped its returns would not affect their efforts to find a lasting end to the conflict Ambassadors Bernard Fassier of France, Yury Merzlyakov of Russia, and Matthew Bryza of the United States, said, "The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs took note that the authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum on December 10 on a draft ‘constitution’ of the so-called ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,’ which no member of the international community– including the Co-Chair countries–recognizes as an independent state," the announcement stressed. "The Co-Chairs do not believe that such a referendum will contribute to a negotiated settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Any future legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined without the threat or use of force and only as the result of political negotiations between all parties in the framework of the Minsk Process," added the OSCE announcement. "Conducting such a referendum now, thus preempting the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh, rather than forging a compromise is particularly unhelpful at a moment when the OSCE Minsk Group-mediated negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to be on a constructive path," stressed the OSCE. "The Co-Chairs expect that the results of this referendum, which are not internationally recognized, will have no negative effect on emerging prospects for an agreement between the sides on the basic principles for the settlement of the conflict." concluded the announcement.

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