WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) congratulates the people of Artsakh on the 88% approval of its new constitution on February 20, Artsakh Revival Day. This is the third referendum held in Artsakh, with a turnout of 79,314 voters – about 76.44% of citizens registered to vote.
“The Armenian Assembly applauds the Republic of Artsakh for exercising its fundamental rights and adopting this new constitution, which maintains basic human rights for its citizens,” Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian said.
The Monday referendum updates the Artsakh Constitution with norms that further strengthen the democratic process, create more effective mechanisms guaranteeing fundamental human rights and freedoms, secure the independence of the judiciary and of the institutions of local government, and enhance direct democracy for the people of Artsakh. This referendum changes the form of government from semi-presidential to fully presidential and calls for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held every five years. In addition, citizens voted on officially restoring the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh – the Russified name of the region – to the historical Armenian name of Artsakh.
Artsakh Republic Proves Its Democracy is Superior to Azerbaijan’s Dictatorship
“This new constitution represents hope. The civilian population has endured unjustifiable and horrendous attacks since the late 1980s, which continue and escalate today despite signed cease-fire agreements. Yet in the middle of that war, Armenians continue to educate their children, build a better society, foster the arts, and remain faithful as a part of the first Christian nation. Artsakh is a full-fledged democracy in complete contrast to the repressive Aliyev regime of Azerbaijan which continues to seek to resolve disputes by eliminating the Armenians,” Assembly’s Yerevan Office Regional Director Arpi Vartanian stated.
After voting himself, President Bako Sahakyan said: “the new Constitution Referendum is a progressive step in our state-building process expressing confidence that the referendum, as any such event in our state, would be held in a free and transparent manner, in full correspondence with international norms and principles.”
Parliamentarians, diplomats, political figures, lawyers, civil society representatives, and journalists from all over the world, such as the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom among others, monitored the elections in Artsakh. The international observers agreed that the vote was conducted democratically. European Union Member of Parliament Eleni Theocharous, one of the observers, added: “Here in Artsakh I see prosperity and progress. Democracy and freedom must first of all be protected. I am happy to see the government of the country exert every possible effort to raise the living standard of the population and to develop the country.”
David Shows Up Goliath Again
The historically Armenian region of Artsakh gained its independence in 1991, following the stipulations of the Soviet Constitution and has never been a part Azerbaijan. In reaction to the legal acts in the late 1980s to assert its right to self-determination, Azerbaijan countered with vicious pogroms and wholesale human rights violations in combination with Soviet forces as widely chronicled and condemned at the time. With the United States’ moral support, the enactment of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act in 1992 (which sanctions aggressive use of force by Azerbaijan against both Armenia and Artsakh) and continuing financial assistance from Congress, the Christian Armenians survived and, upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, defended their freedom on the battlefield with a stable democracy and viable civil society and developing market economy.
“There are binding cease-fire agreements from 1994 and 1995 signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Artsakh which were reaffirmed by the OSCE Minsk Group after the April War in 2016. If the Aliyev regime cannot keep its word on signed agreements, there is no reason to trust it to keep a permanent peace deal. It is clear that he cannot afford peace if he is to sustain his domestic position, and it is clear that the people of Artsakh are more in line with American and values and the values of civilized people in the face of barbarism,” Assembly Co-Chairs said. “To hold a peaceful referendum and continue to live their lives in dignity and freedom is inspirational and represents the best of the human spirit. We are proud of them, salute them, and like all people of good faith and honest dealing are pledged to seeing them succeed in living in peace with democracy and human rights,” they added.
This path continues even as Azerbaijan amassed phenomenal oil wealth, turned caviar diplomacy into new political friends who are increasingly being exposed in foreign capitals, and enlisted radical jihadists – whose ISIS style beheadings and other tactics are an increasing threat to the entire region.
According to reports by the Artsakh Ministry of Defence on the Line of Contact, there have been over 2,000 documented cease-fire violations by Azerbaijan since the start of this year, with more than 23,000 shots fired. In less than two months, including on Armenian Christmas Day (January 6), Azerbaijan’s army has been relentlessly attacking Artsakh and its citizens, even targeting kindergartens and other schools, and showing no signs of wanting a peaceful resolution.
The United Nations and all relevant parties have authorized the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group to mediate a peace agreement, yet the Aliyev regime has consistently walked away from peace terms over the years and even threatens to walk away from the agreed international process whenever it finds it convenient. The Aliyev regime has even forbidden civil society contacts between Azeris and Armenians, persecuting those Azeris who are in any way deemed to be open to dialogue.
Earlier this month, another dictator, the leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, extradited Russian-Israeli journalist Alexander Lapshin to Azerbaijan simply for traveling to report from Artsakh, solidifying the Aliyev regime’s record and verifying reports on human rights violations. Reporters Without Borders, for example, described the following about Azerbaijan for 2016: “Not content with crushing all forms of pluralism, President Ilham Aliyev has been waging a relentless war against his remaining critics since 2014. Independent journalists and bloggers are thrown in prison if they do not first yield to harassment, beatings, blackmail or bribes. Some independent media, such as Zerkalo and Azadlig, have been stifled economically. Others, such as Radio Azadlig, have been closed by force. In a bid to get the most recalcitrant (or those who continue to resist in exile, such as Emin Milli and Ganimat Zahid) to submit, the authorities also harass family members.”
With over three quarters of registered voters showing up at the polling stations, the national referendum on the new draft Constitution, supported by over 87% of the voters, was a democratic success. According to a statement by the Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The referendum on February 20 has become another act of expression of will by the people of Artsakh, in exercising their right to determine their own future, as enshrined in fundamental international documents.”
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501©(3) tax-exempt membership organization.