Prague, 5 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Three war-torn, self-proclaimed republics, all on former Soviet territory, are to hold elections in the coming weeks.
Abkhazia intends to stage parliamentary elections November 23. Nagorno-Karabkh plans to have a presidential ballot November 24 and Transdnistria is set to hold a presidential vote December 22.
Abkhaz separatists say 90 candidates of various nationalities, including three ethnic Georgians, have registered to contend the 35 seats in the parliament.
Abkhazia suffered widespread destruction and lost a great number of people as a result of fighting in 1992 and 1993, when Abkhaz separatists declared independence from Georgia. The Russian military initially backed the separatists, but for the past three years it has sided at times with Tbilisi and at other times with Sukhumi. Two years ago Russia signed a treaty with Georgia, securing three military bases there until Tbilisi regains control over Abkhazia. The Georgian parliament has failed to ratify the treaty
Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze and the Georgian parliament have criticized the holding of the elections in Abkhazia, questioning the validity of the vote in the situation where hundreds of thousands of refugees are not allowed to return home.
Two weeks ago, the UN Security Council called on Abkhazia's to postpone the vote until a political settlement is reached on the relationship with Georgia.
Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba has accused Georgia of launching a campaign of "terror and sabotage" in order to prevent the elections. Georgia has responded with an appeal to Ardzinba to abide by the UN Security Council request and cancel the parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, several hundred kilometers to the east, in the heart of the Caucasus, presidential election campaign formally began yesterday in the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Three presidential candidates are competing: incumbent Robert Kocharyan, former parliament deputy speaker Boris Arushanyan, and Nagorno-Karabakh Communist Party leader Grant Melkumyan.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned the contest as an obstacle to efforts to settle the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Its statement said the planned poll ignores the fact that nearly one third of Nagorno-Karabakh's population is living as refugees beyond its borders.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been the scene of intermittent fighting for the last eight years, ever since its ethnic Armenian majority rose to secede from Azerbaijan and unite with Armenia. The mid-1988 uprising provided a catalyst for mass demonstrations in Yerevan in favor of Armenian independence from the Soviet Union.
Three years ago ethnic Armenian forces routed Azeri troops and Azeri inhabitants from Azerbaijan's territory separating Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia. Azerbaijan continues to demand the return of all its territory in both Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding Armenian-occupied lands.
Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission issued a statement two weeks ago condemning the Karabakh presidential elections as "an attempt to legalize a puppet regime."
The Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement last month condemning plans to hold the Karabakh presidential poll, saying it would violate Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and sovereignty and undermine ongoing negotiations on finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.
But Nagorno-Karabakh President Robert Kocharyan said last week the vote in the self-declared republic will be held despite criticism.
The last separatist elections of the year are scheduled in Transdnistria, Moldova's break-away territory east of the Dniestr river.
Only two candidates are to run in the presidential contest there: incumbent president Igor Smirnov and Vladimir Malakhov, a businessman who heads the Chamber of Local Industries. Smirnov, a former Soviet factory manager is favored to win.
Transdnistria is inhabited largely by ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and a smattering of smaller nationalities including Romanians, Bulgarians and Turks. It declared independence in 1990 in response to Soviet Moldavia's declaration of sovereignty and amid concerns that Moldavia, renamed Moldova, would seek reunification with Romania.
Since then Moldova has opted to maintain its independence and not merge with Romania. Although Moldova was part of Romania's province of Bessarabia between the two world wars, the territory that now constitutes Transdnistria was not, having throughout this century been part first of tsarist Russia and then the Soviet Union.