Müsavat head İsa Gambar, the leader of the opposition and second-largest party in Azerbaijan, did not have a positive view of the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia when he spoke with Sunday’s Zaman. “The [Armenian] regime, which sabotaged the elections, is not preparing to change its policy regarding its neighboring countries, including Azerbaijan, as it will not even allow the people to change the party in power. That is why the [the results of the] latest parliamentary elections will not change anything in the foreign policy of Armenia,” said Gambar, adding that it is unfortunate that a corrupt, authoritarian regime is running Armenia, a situation seen in the majority of post-Soviet countries that leads to rigged elections.
The parliamentary elections held in Armenia last Sunday resulted in the victory of President Serzh Sarksyan’s Republican Party, which won 44 percent of the vote and 68 seats, a majority in the 131-seat parliament. The results were not much of a surprise, with charges of fraud and vote-rigging circulating amongst observers. Although this year’s elections were thought to be much more progressive than those in 2008, which were followed by bloody demonstrations in the capital of Yerevan that resulted in the deaths of eight protesters by Armenian security forces, observers were mainly concerned about the pressures on voters and lack of confidence in the elections process in Armenia.
Reiterating that the results of the Armenian elections will not affect relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Gambar said the Sarksyan regime has used the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has been stuck in a deadlock for more than two decades, to maintain his authority. He added, “The Sarksyan regime does not intend to make any positive changes in relations with Azerbaijan.” Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani territory, has been under Armenian control since a 1994 cease-fire in a war that began in the late 1980s and resulted in the deaths of some 30,000 people. Although the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group was established in 1992 to negotiate the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has yet to be settled.
Echoing Gambar, Sabine Freizer, the İstanbul-based director of the International Crisis Group’s Europe Program, told Sunday’s Zaman that the May 6 parliamentary elections in Armenia and the victory of President Sarksyan’s Republican Party are unlikely to have any effect on Armenian-Azerbaijani or Armenian-Turkish relations. “President Sarksyan is unlikely to take any risky steps before the 2013 presidential elections,” she said, adding, “With the 2015 centennial approaching, the Armenian side most likely feels that it’s in its best interest to focus on international genocide recognition and commemoration rather than working with Turkey to revive the 2009 protocols, especially as it sees no movement in Ankara regarding the protocols.”
A historic reconciliation process was launched between Turkey and Armenia in 2009 when the two sides signed twin protocols, but these were not well-received in Azerbaijan. These protocols, signed in Zurich to establish diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia, shook Turkish-Azerbaijani friendship. What angered Azerbaijan the most was the opening of the border between the two countries. Turkey has kept its border with Armenia closed since 1993, following the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent Azerbaijani territories, in order to support strategic ally Azerbaijan. However, the ratification of the protocols was put on hold after Turkey insisted Armenia must first agree to a solution to the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh issue as a precondition for normalization. The issue of Armenia’s withdrawal from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent territories is important to Ankara, which has frequently signaled that this step would pave the way for the opening of its border with Armenia. Richard Giragosian, director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center, also thinks the results of the Armenian elections will have little impact on the country’s relations with Azerbajian or the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. “The landslide victory of the ruling Republican Party will induce a degree of confidence and will only bolster the position and political standing of the Armenian president, especially as he is seeking re-election in the country’s looming presidential contest set for February 2012,” Giragosian told Sunday’s Zaman. He added that “we should expect a more assertive and stronger pursuit of Armenian foreign policy. In terms of Azerbaijan, this most likely suggests a deepening of the current status quo.”