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Disputed Nagorno-Karabakh Region Holds Elections

Bako Sahakian, leader of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh

Bako Sahakian, leader of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh

STEPANAKERT -- Voters in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh have voted to elect local government bodies in the capital, Stepanakert, and more than 200 other communities, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The Karabakh election commission said 59 percent of Karabakh's more than 93,000 eligible voters cast their ballots on September 18 for candidates vying for mayorships and council seats. The commission said it received no formal complaints from any candidates.

Karabakh leader Bako Sahakian hailed the elections as "democratic" after casting a ballot in Stepanakert.

"It can be said that elections have become an integral part of life in our country," he told RFE/RL. "It's already a culture. It's very good that once again elections were held in a civilized environment and within the framework of the law and moral norms."

The main electoral race took place in Stepanakert, where vote results showed government-backed candidate Suren Grigorian winning 62.5 percent of the vote and becoming its new mayor.

Grigorian's main challenger, former Stepanakert Mayor Eduard Aghabekian, was second with some 24 percent of the vote. The third candidate, Marat Hasratian, got about 14 percent.

Hasratian, a member of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's parliament, conceded defeat on September 19. "In my view, the elections were held properly," he told RFE/RL.

Aghabekian, for his part, was not available for comment. Stepanakert's outgoing mayor, Vazgen Mikaelian, did not run for reelection.

Azerbaijan condemned the elections as illegitimate. "The so-called 'elections' are organized with the aim of concealing Armenia's policy of occupation and bolstering the results of the occupation of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territories," the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement on September 15.

Vasili Atajanian, the disputed territory's acting foreign minister, scoffed at the criticism, branding Azerbaijan a hereditary "sultanate" where voters decide nothing. "We are showing the world that we have created a truly democratic state," he said.

Armenians beat the Azerbaijanis for control of Karabakh and several adjoining areas in a bloody war that ended in 1994 and forced tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis to flee the disputed region.

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