History, Recent Developments
uncontested election, Azerbaijanis, Aliyev, mutinies, military effort
After Azerbaijan gained independence, the government abolished Nagorno-Karabakh’s autonomous status. The Armenian leadership in Nagorno-Karabakh responded by declaring the region’s independence. The conflict continued to plague Azerbaijan during its first years of independence. President Mutalibov was forced to resign in March 1992 after he was held directly responsible for the death of several hundred Azerbaijanis killed by Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. The interim president, Yagub Mamedov, was unable to control the political situation, and Mutalibov was reinstated in May. He was immediately deposed, however, when the PFA seized control in a nearly bloodless coup with the support of military units.
The leader of the PFA, Aliyev Abul’faz Elchibey, was elected president in June. Elchibey soon lost popularity, however, because of his inability to end the war in Nagorno-Karabakh or improve Azerbaijan’s war-ravaged economy. Pressure on Elchibey increased when he attempted to disarm a disobedient military garrison based in Ganca in June 1993. The garrison, led by Colonel Surat Huseinov, marched on Baku and seized control, and Elchibey fled to Naxc?van. The Milli Majlis voted to transfer Elchibey’s powers to former Communist official Heydar Aliyev, who had been elected chairperson of the assembly earlier that month. A republic-wide referendum supported Elchibey’s removal, and in October 1993 Aliyev was elected president in a virtually uncontested election. The Milli Majlis appointed Huseinov as prime minister, and he took over the coordination of the military effort in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Meanwhile, the government of Armenia continued publicly to support the Armenian secessionists in Nagorno-Karabakh. By August 1993 Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, with reinforcements from Armenia, gained control of the enclave as well as some 20 percent of adjacent territory in western Azerbaijan, including a corridor linking the enclave with Armenia. Azerbaijanis fled the Armenian-controlled territory to other parts of Azerbaijan, resulting in 100,000 new refugees in the country. In December 1993 Azerbaijani forces began a renewed offensive in the region, recapturing some areas while suffering heavy casualties. By early 1994 an estimated 18,000 people had been killed and 25,000 wounded since the conflict began in 1988. The massive relocation of population had produced an estimated 1 million refugees and displaced persons (primarily Azerbaijanis and Armenians) in Azerbaijan alone. Initial cease-fire agreements failed to hold, and fighting continued in Nagorno-Karabakh until May 1994, when both sides agreed again to cease hostilities. Although this cease-fire has remained in effect, ongoing negotiations had failed to achieve a final peace settlement as of early 1999.
In other internal affairs, the Aliyev government faced mutinies among certain military troops (particularly the special militia attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs) in October 1994 and March 1995. Forces loyal to Aliyev quickly crushed the revolts and reestablished government control. After the October revolt, Aliyev dismissed Prime Minister Huseinov as well as several high-level government and military officials, charging they had supported the mutinous forces. Aliyev declared a state of emergency and banned demonstrations. After the March revolt, which Aliyev described as part of another plot to oust him, the PFA was accused of involvement and banned by the government.
In November 1995 Azerbaijan held its first legislative elections since independence, for a new 125-seat Milli Majlis. The New Azerbaijan Party (NAP), which is aligned with Aliyev, won a majority of seats in the elections. Only two opposition parties were allowed to participate—the PFA, which had been officially reinstated, and the National Independence Party (NIP). Both parties won seats in the new legislature. International observers from the United Nations (UN) and the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported serious electoral violations, such as the exclusion of a number of opposition parties and hundreds of independent candidates as well as the restriction of the media. At the same time as the legislative elections, voters approved a new constitution that granted wide-ranging powers to the president, including appointment of the prime minister and other ministers, the procurator general, and the judges of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court.
Since the 1995 elections, Aliyev has maintained a strong position, in part because of an improved economy. However, his government has continued to limit freedom of the press and opposition activities. In October 1998 Aliyev won a second term in a presidential election that international monitors said was marred by ballot-stuffing by Aliyev supporters and a pro-government bias in the media. According to official results, Aliyev won 76 percent of the vote to defeat five other candidates.
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