The former prime minister of the unrecognized region of Nagorno-Karabakh has won a runoff presidential election in the disputed region, an expected result after his rival asked his supporters not to vote in the second round.
De facto election officials in the breakaway Azerbaijani region said on April 15 that Arayik (Ara) Harutyunian, a wealthy businessman, received 88 percent of the vote, compared with 12 percent for Masis Mayilian.
The runoff was held on April 14 amid international criticism and safety concerns due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mayilyan had called on voters to stay away from the second round to minimize the spread of the virus, though some opposition figures have questioned the legitimacy of the first-round results, claiming violations.
In the initial vote on March 31, Harutyunian won around 49 percent, just short of the majority needed for an outright victory. Mayilian finished second with 26.4 percent.
Voters appeared to heed Mayilian's call, with turnout falling to just under 45 percent in the second round, compared with more than 72 percent in the first round.
Nagorno-Karabakh was seized by Armenian-backed separatists who declared independence amid a 1988-1994 conflict that killed at least 30,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Since a fragile, Russian-brokered truce in 1994, the region has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces that Azerbaijan says include troops supplied by Armenia. The region's claim to independence has not been recognized by any country.
Since then, periodic skirmishes have taken place in the region.
Russia, the United States, and France are the co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which acts as a mediator in resolving the crisis. The group has been struggling for years to mediate a solution.
After the first round of what it called "the so-called 'presidential and parliamentary elections' in Nagorno-Karabakh," the European Union reminded the region's leaders that it does not recognize their entity.
The OSCE Minsk group also issued a statement on March 31 saying it does "recognize the role of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh in deciding its future," but reminded the de facto leaders of the breakaway region that "Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognized as an independent and sovereign state" by any country.
"Accordingly, the co-chairs do not accept the results of these 'elections' as affecting the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh and stress that the results in no way prejudge the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the ongoing negotiations to bring a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," the statement said.