MPs abandon plans to establish Parliamentary Friends of Azerbaijan in Victoria, Australia, over human rights record

The Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) and its allies, including a coalition of Greek, Cypriot, Assyrian, Kurdish and Christian bodies, announced that their joint grassroots advocacy over the last 48 hours resulted in Victorian MPs abandoning plans to establish a Parliamentary Friends of Azerbaijan in Victoria.

ANC-AU says late on Monday, 17th June 2024, it was dismayed to received information from its sources that Natalie Suleyman MP (Labor) and David Southwick MP (Liberal) had sent out a mass email to Victorian parliamentarians inviting them to the inaugural meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of Azerbaijan in the Victorian Parliament.

Immediately, the ANC-AU’s advocacy kicked into gear, calling on friends, allies, and state and federal members of parliament across the political aisle to demand Suleyman and Southwick withdraw the invitation and for Members of Parliament to boycott the meeting, in light of Azerbaijani dictatorship’s appalling human rights record.

As recently as September 2023, the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan ethnically cleansed the over 120 thousand indigenous Christian Armenian population of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), after laying a total siege of that self-determined republic for over 10 months despite calls from the International Court of Justice and the international community to lift the siege.  Many Armenian POWs and political leaders of Artsakh remain in jails in Baku with reports of torture.  Meanwhile, there are documented various instances of the destruction and desecration of Armenian cultural and religious institutions in Artsakh under Azerbaijani occupation.

Within 24 hours, nine civil society bodies, including the Assyrian National Council Australia, the Australian Assyrian Arts and Literature Foundation, the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria, the Australian Hellenic Council – Victoria, Christian Faith and Freedom Inc, the Victorian Council of Churches, Federation of Democratic Kurdish Society – Australia, the Justice for Cyprus Coordinating Committee, and Return to Anatolia delivered strong statements to all elected officials encouraging the calls of the peak public affairs body of the Armenian-Australian community.

In addition, the ANC-AU’s first responders in Victoria played a crucial role in sending hundreds of emails and making calls demanding their local Members of Parliament, the Premier of Victoria Jacinta Allan and the Leader of the Opposition John Pesutto to actively oppose the formation of the group.

Throughout the course of the day, the ANC-AU welcomed a statement from the Victorian Greens published in their website, which stated, “The Victorian Greens MPs will not attend the inaugural meeting of the Victorian Parliamentary Friends of Azerbaijan scheduled for 19 June and urge other members of parliament not to attend as it could send a message of endorsement of the actions of the state of Azerbaijan.”

ANC-AU Executive Director, Michael Kolokossian received a call at approximately 4:00pm from the Leader of the Opposition’s office informing the organisation that the community’s concerns had been heard and that the planned meeting was cancelled.

The ANC-AU expressed its deep appreciation to all members of the Parliamentary Friends of Armenia in Victoria, who echoed their concerns, in particular, Co-Chairs Ann-Marie Hermans MP (Member for South Eastern Metropolitan Region),  Michael Galea MP (Member for South Eastern Metropolitan Region) and Secretary Kim Wells MP (Member for Rowville), as well as the civil society bodies who amplified the demands.

Kolokossain said, “There should be no place for agents of a foreign dictatorship in the hallways of  the Victorian Parliament or any other parliament of Australia. Any such attempt to establish a Parliamentary Friends of Azerbaijan will provide a platform for the brutal petro-dictatorship to whitewash and sanitise in Australia their Armenophobic hatred and genocidal policies.”

“It is unfathomable that certain members of the Victorian Parliament even considered setting a parliamentary friendship group with a country that has essentially been ruled by one family for decade since the fall of the Soviet Union, with the former KGB General, President Haydar Aliyev, bestowing (through rigged elections) rule to his son, the current president Ilham Aliyev, who has appointed his wife as Vice-President and which has an appalling record of political suppression and prisoners, corruption, virulent Armenophobia and anti-Armenian atrocities.

“It would be like setting up a Victorian Parliamentary Friendship Group with North Korea,” said Kolokossian.  “The only time the Victorian Parliament should rightly contemplate a Friendship Group with Azerbaijan is when it is no longer a despotic, corrupt, hereditary dictatorship, and which has freed all political prisoners and prisoners of war as well as atoned and provided restitution for its crimes against humanity, including the international guaranteed right of return,  to the ethnically cleansed Armenian indigenous population of Artsakh.”

“We strongly suggest that her electorate should hold  Ms Suleyman to account at the next election as she seems to want to be more the Member for the nationalist interests of Azerbaijan and Turkey in Victoria than for the seat of St Albans.”

“Today, this broad-based grass-roots advocacy by various communities and sectors of our society have sent a very loud and clear message that the foreign influence of such despotic regimes are not welcome and will not be countenanced  in Australia,” Kolokossian added.

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