Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas will serve as a political observer of upcoming national elections in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.
In the face of opposition from Turkey and Azerbaijan, the Armenian-populated Nagorno Karabakh is holding elections to assert their national independence and sovereignty.
Nagorno Karabakh, situated between Armenia and Azerbaijan, was historically ruled by Armenia until the breakup of the Soviet Union left the area officially under the rule of Azerbaijan. The two countries have since wrestled over its control.
Borgeas will be gone from April 25 to May 5. He and two others from the United States were among those invited to assess Nagorno Karabakh’s election process by international election standards. They, along with representatives from other countries including Mexico, Argentina and Canada, will observe the ballot distribution and calculation, examine the election site and make sure the election is free and fair.
“It's a process that we take for granted in America because it's part of who we are, but in other areas of the world they have to fight and persevere to make that process a reality,” he said.
The Nagorno Karabakh ambassador in Washington D.C. nominated Borgeas as an elected official specialized in international law, which he teaches at the San Joaquin College of Law.
In a formal invitation letter, Ashot Ghulyan, chairman of the national assembly, said the parliamentary elections May 3 represent the sixth time since Nagorno Karabakh’s declaration of independence that residents will exercise their right to vote.
“We see the upcoming elections as yet another opportunity to reaffirm the adherence of Nagorno Karabakh people to universal freedoms and liberties and therefore attach great importance to international election observation mission,” Ghulyan wrote. “Thus, on behalf of the National Assembly, I extend to you an invitation to observe the upcoming elections in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, guaranteeing unimpeded access to all stages of the election process.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry called the parliamentary elections “illegal” and “an apparent violation of international law.”
Borgeas said his visit is a matter of pride for local Armenians. His wife is Armenian and her grandmother survived the Armenian genocide.
“On a personal level, I think the Armenians in Fresno will be proud to know they are represented as observers in this very important election that promotes the free and sovereign state of Nagorno Karabakh,” he said.
The election comes on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the genocide. Borgeas said the existential threat to Armenians is not over.
“On a genocide-related level, this means a lot,” he said of the election. “Between the Turks in the west and Azeris in the east, Armenians are still precariously situated.”
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in April 2013, which maintains that residents of Nagorno Karabakh have elected to govern themselves and that their wishes should be respected. The supervisors weighed in out of respect for the views of many in the Valley’s large Armenian community.
Fresno was the first county in the United States to take a position on the matter, although some states had passed similar resolutions. In May, the California Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the region’s independence.
The Nagorno Karabakh president visited Fresno in November.