May 22, 2010 / 10:30 PM / 9 years ago

Rebel Nagorno Karabakh holds parliamentary vote

YEREVAN, May 23 (Reuters) - Breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh elects its new parliament on Sunday, one month after the collapse of a plan to end hostility between Armenia and Turkey and ease tension in the south Caucasus.

Most candidates and parties insist on independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, while some of them want the region to become part of Armenia. Officials see the poll as part of a process of institution building in the disputed enclave.

The tiny mountain region, mainly populated by Christian Armenians, seceded from Muslim Azerbaijan and proclaimed independence after a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000. Its independence is not recognised by any country.

Azerbaijan wants Nagorno-Karabakh back, if necessary by force. More than 15 years of mediation have failed to produce a final peace deal and the threat of war is never far away in a key energy transit region to the West.

Turkey, Azerbaijan’s energy trading partner in the region, closed the border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with a close Muslim ally in its losing battle with Armenian-backed fighters in Karabakh.

The breakaway region has seen a spike in tensions since Armenia and Turkey announced their rapprochement last year.

But the accord crumbled last month, when Armenia suspended its ratification following Turkish demands that it first reach terms over Nagorno-Karabakh, a condition Turkey set to appease Azerbaijan, an oil and gas producer which hosts oil majors including BP (BP.L), ExxonMobil (XOM.N) and Chevron (CVX.N).

Four parties and 40 candidates from single-mandate constituencies are competing for 33 seats in the legislature elected for five years.

Parties, which include pro-government Free Motherland, Democratic Party of Artsakh and Dashnaktsutsiun as well as opposition, but not popular Communist Party, will need to clear a six-percent threshold to get into the parliament.

“ILLEGAL VOTE”

Azerbaijan called upcoming election “illegal.”

“The “new election farce” in the occupied territories is contrary to Azerbaijan’s constitution and the norms of international law,” Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said in a statement.

“It demonstrates Armenia’s occupation policy and its wish to prevent settlement of the Karabakh conflict.”

Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry and the CEC urged observers to abstain from monitoring upcoming poll.

“Nagorno-Karabakh is Azeri territory and any, who will visit it without a permission from the Azeri side will be declare persona non grata and won’t be able to visit Azerbaijan,” Elkhan Polukhov, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, told Reuters.

But officials in the breakaway region believe that the poll will demonstrate their wish to build democratic institutions.

“Upcoming election in Nagorno-Karabakh is a very important event as democracy is an important value for us along with our independence and sovereignty,” Bako Sahakyan, the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, said.

The election, to be held from 0800 to 2000 local time (3 a.m. to 1500 GMT), has to be attended by at least 25 percent of the enclave’s electorate of around 90,000 to be valid. (Additional reporting by Afet Mehtiyeva in Baku; Writing by Margarita Antidze)

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