Information on the referendum’s basic components and comments of the parties concerned
A referendum on new Constitution and new name will be held in Nagorno-Karabakh on February 20, 2017
Here’s the information on the key elements, namely:
- change of the form of government;
- change of name;
- assessment on part of Armenia and Azerbaijan;
- assessment on part of international institutions.
A new model of governance
A new Constitution that is brought for referendum provides for the establishment of centralized presidential form of government with broader powers of the legislature.
At present, there is a semi-presidential form of government in the breakaway republic, in accordance with the constitution in effect, adopted in 2006.
The discussions on the need for strengthening presidential powers in Karabakh started in early 2016, as many experts believe, under the direct influence of the constitutional referendum in Armenia in December 2015.
There was quite an opposite process in Armenia at that time-the country moved from the presidential onto the parliamentary form of government. But maybe that process wasn’t that opposite. The opposition in Armenia claimed that the constitutional changes actually aimed at creating the conditions for extending President Serzh Sargsyan’s power, whose second and final term in office expires in 2018. The new constitution allowed him to maintain power in the capacity of the Parliament Chairman, Prime Minister or the Chair of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
In May 2016, a commission was set up in Nagorno-Karabakh to elaborate a new draft Constitution for transition to the parliamentary form of government on the model of Armenia.
However, later everything changed and the commission developed an opposite concept of the constitutional reforms-on strengthening the presidential powers.
Some government officials in Karabakh and many public figures stated then that the aforesaid decision was prompted by the 4-day war on the contact line in April 2016, that claimed over 200 lives on both sides. As a result, Karabakh stated that the parliamentary form of government was unacceptable for ‘Karabakh which is actually at war.’
Meanwhile, Karabakh opposition forces claim, constitutional reform is carried out to give the incumbent President, Bako Sahakyan, a chance to maintain his power.
His term in office expires in July 2017. Under the new Constitution, the next presidential elections are due in 2020. Until then, in 2017, the new president will be elected by Parliament. Thus, Bako Sahakyan, who has been holding the President’s post since 2007, theoretically gets a chance to stay in power until 2030.
Change of name
The Republic of Artsakh is written in the very first paragraph of the draft new Constitution, the fate of which is going to be sealed by tomorrow’s referendum.
However, both Constitutions, the one that is currently in effect, as well as the new one, allow for the use of both names – Nagorno-Karabakh and Artsakh.
Ashot Gulyan, Parliament Speaker of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic:
“What we’ve been talking about for so many years is being accomplished now- it is time to return our historic, original Armenian name. And that has been reflected in the first article of the draft of new constitution.”
Comments from Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, official statement:
“The illegal “referendum on constitutional changes” planned to be held in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan is a clear violation of the country’s constitution, as well as the norms and principles of international law and, therefore, has no legal effect…
This provocative step, as well as Armenia’s attempts to change the name of Nagorno-Karabakh region, an integral part of Azerbaijan, is yet another clear manifestation of the fact that Armenia is not interested in seeking a political settlement of this armed conflict.”
Toghrul Juvarli, a member of the Azerbaijani National Public Committee on Eurointegration, commented to the Caucasian Knot:
“Any unilateral steps that endanger this process within the framework of the of the OSCE Minsk Group mediation format are strongly rejected. De-jure Nagorno-Karabakh is considered Azerbaijani territory and this is reflected in the UN and other international organizations’ documents. On the other hand, the very fact of holding a ‘referendum’ in the absence of the Azerbaijani population undermines its democratic nature.
Before the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijanis made over quarter of the region’s population.
Against the background that they are expelled from their native land and deprived of the opportunity to express their will, the outcome of any voting is illegitimate. The key principle of the modern European democracy is to give everyone an opportunity to participate in democracy. In this case, this principle has been violated.”
Comments from Armenia
Shavarsh Kocharyan, Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia, tweeted:
“The constitutional referendum doesn’t determine Nagorno-Karabakh status. It was determined through the independence referendum.”
“I see no conceptual difference in that renaming. Artsakh, as a name of republic, is used both, in a new draft constitution, as well as in that which is currently in effect. Both Constitutions allow using both names,” Ara Papyan, the head of the Modus Vivendi analytical center, told BBC.
According to Tatul Hakobyan, a coordinator at ANI Foundation for Armenian Studies, renaming doesn’t change anything:
“Both names will be used similarly as they have been used until now. Perhaps, during our Armenian discussions it will be more appropriate to use the name Artsakh. But no matter how we refer to it, in the international structures Karabakh will still remain Karabakh.”
Comments of the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabakh Resolution
“Although the Co-Chairs note that de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities view the use of such a procedure as an effort to organize the public life of their population, they underscore again that no countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent and sovereign state.
Accordingly, the Co-Chairs do not accept the results of the referendum on February 20 as affecting the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh,” reads the statement published on the OSCE official website.
Comments from Russia
“We don’t recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. We proceed from the fact that its status must be determined through political negotiations as part of the Minsk process.
At the same time, we don’t believe that peaceful settlement could depend on holding the aforesaid ‘constitutional referendum,” Russian RIA Novosti reported with reference to the RF MFA Press and Information Department.
- According to the early data, the number of voters included in the voting lists totals over 102,000 people. About 280 precincts will be opened in all regions throughout the republic, as well as in Nagorno-Karabakh representative office in Armenia.
- Like earlier, a new draft Constitution will comprise 12 chapter. However, there will be 175 instead of 146 articles. As the Chair of the Commission on Constitutional Reforms told journalists, the major part of new articles will be related to human rights.
- The armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh took place in 1991-1994. Since entering into a truce, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has existed as a de facto independent republic, unrecognised by any country in the world, including Armenia. Azerbaijan considers Karabakh and the adjacent areas, acquired during the war, as occupied territories and demands their return.
- The OSCE Minsk Group – a group of OSCE member-states, which headed the process of seeking peaceful solutions to the Karabakh conflict, was set up in 1992. The OSCE Co-chairs are representatives of the Russian Federation; France and (USA. The OSCE Minsk Group comprises Belarus, Germany, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.