Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

I Did Not Vote Twice

A Karabakhi journalist and her look-alike sister cause a stir a Stepanakert polling station.
By IWPR
When I woke up on July 19, I saw that it was already 8 am. Believing I was late, I got dressed in a hurry. I’d arranged to meet our IWPR colleagues from Yerevan and other parts of the Caucasus to visit a number of polling stations in the town of Shushi to observe the situation there and report on the presidential election in Karabakh.



But, before I could go to Shushi, I had to perform my civic duty - to vote. Only people who are often late can know how quickly I rushed out of the house. On reaching the polling station, I found out that my watch was an hour fast and I was the first person to arrive. I was warmly greeted as the first voter of the day and invited to cast my ballot. They said they were glad to see “such a young and beautiful girl” arriving ahead of everybody else.



The mood in the Karabakhi capital Stepanakert was different from an ordinary day. I saw on my way that voting at several polling stations was proceeding to the accompaniment of live music. Stepanakert residents, especially women and girls, had dressed for a festive occasion.



Several hours after I voted, my sister went to the same polling station to cast her ballot. Her arrival caused a flurry at the station. My sister and I look very alike, and this resemblance has frequently got us into funny situations. When she attempted to take the ballot form, polling station officials started clamouring, “This girl has come for a second time! Don’t you dare fill in the ballot!” My sister told me later that the tumult subsided only after they checked her passport and the voter lists.



During the two previous presidential elections, I don’t remember the town being particularly active or its mood being affected by the event. This time around, however, the town simply pulsated with election excitement.



For several months before the poll, Stepanakert residents tirelessly had discussed the future event. In the immediate period before the election, political discussions could be heard everywhere - on streets, in cafes, parks and shops. People asked each other, “Whom will you vote for – Bako [Sahakian] or Masis [Mailian]?”



Coming home by taxi late in the evening of election day, I asked the driver:



“Did you vote?”

“Yes.”

“If it’s not a secret, who for?”

“For my boss.”

“Do you work for the state?”

“No, I don’t, but this taxi-service belongs to Bako Sahakian.”

“And whom did you give your vote?

“Masis.”



We arrived at my home. I paid the fare and was getting out of the car, when the driver said, “I must tell you that all that was recorded. So be careful.”



Lusine Musaelian is a correspondent with the electronic newspaper Karabakhopen, Stepanakert.



This report is one of three first-person accounts of journalists from and visiting Nagorny Karabakh during the presidential elections as part of IWPR’s Cross Caucasus Journalism Network project. Different in style from our usual reports, they give an impression of the polls and life in this remote but important territory in the South Caucasus.



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