SYDNEY: The Armenian National Committee of Australia has condemned Federal Australian parliamentarian, Craig Kelly for comments he has made praising Azerbaijan’s democracy after leading a delegation to observe the oil-rich dictatorship’s most recent presidential elections.

Kelly, the Member for Hughes, remarked to Azerbaijan’s Azernews media outlet, that he “saw an election organisation that surpassed Australia’s experience in this field” and that “we, together with my colleagues, will undoubtedly bring this useful experience home.”

Kelly also said: “I learned a lot of new things and I propose to apply it in Australia. I saw the birth date of voters, there was a man born in 1928. This means that he is 90 years old. This is a significant day for him, since he voted in democratic conditions.”

The Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) expressed their dismay that these quotes by an Australian politician were so different to the testimonies of observers from other democratic countries, who have almost universally condemned the undemocratic environment in which these elections were held.

“We think it is a legitimate question to ask,” said ANC-AU Executive Director Haig Kayserian. “Why is Craig Kelly out of sync with every other international observer from a recognised democracy who monitored the very same elections?”

“To ignore that Azerbaijan has been ranked below countries such as Iran, Iraq, China and Russia in terms of civil and political freedoms by Freedom House, and to suggest Australia should learn from such a regime, is completely unacceptable,” Kayserian added.

Azerbaijan’s 11th April presidential elections saw the incumbent Ilham Aliyev returned to power for the next seven years. These elections were the first since a constitutional referendum in 2016 that extended the powers of the president and increased the presidential term from five to seven years.

The election was widely criticised by international observers, who noted the lack of genuine competition in an environment of curtailed rights and freedoms.

“We have to consider that, in a political environment where democratic principles are compromised, and the rule of law is not observed, fair and free elections are not possible,” said Viorel Riceard Badea, Head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Observation Mission for the presidential elections noted in its report that: “The elections took place within a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtails fundamental rights and freedoms, which are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections”.

Four Australian parliamentarians participated as observers in the election, including Kelly. He also monitored the 2016 constitutional referendum – widely criticised for its lack of transparency and significant disregard for mandatory procedures – describing Azerbaijan as a democracy “Australia could learn from”.

ANC-AU has been in contact with the offices of the parliamentarians who went to Azerbaijan to monitor the elections, seeking confirmation that Australia’s representatives included the regime’s record of siphoning free speech and engaging in corruption, as evidenced by the discovery of the Azerbaijani Laundromat investigation where the Aliyev regime was proven to be paying Western politicians for favourable coverage.



According to The Economist,[5] Azerbaijan ranks 148/167 countries in terms of democratisation, a measure corroborated by Freedom House which ranks the Caspian oil state below Iraq, Iran, China and Russia in term of civil and political rights and freedoms.[6] Reporters Without Borders ranks Azerbaijan 162 out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. Transparency International ranks Azerbaijan 122/180 on its Corruption Perceptions Index.

In its 2017/18 report, Amnesty International notes that according to Azerbaijani human rights defenders, more than 150 people – including journalists and political activists – remained imprisoned on politically motivated charges.[8] Human Rights Watch, in their 2018 World Report, expressed concern at Azerbaijan’s repeated refusal to accept decisions handed down by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Court of Human Rights condemning a range of rights abuses committed by the government – including the “unrelenting crackdown” on government critics and the detention of journalists and critics on politically motivated charges.

The Government of Azerbaijan has also recently been linked to a money laundering scandal known as the “Azerbaijani Laundromat” that saw $2.9 billion USD funnelled out of the country into shell companies based in the UK. The funds were used to pay off European politicians to vote against condemnation of Azerbaijani human rights abuses in the Council of Europe, and to mobilise international organisations – including UNESCO – to promote a favourable image of the authoritarian regime at the world stage. According to the investigation by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, $200,000 (USD) of the Laundromat funds were traced to Australia.

Given the continued decline of democratic rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan, no Australia delegation should be complicit in the legitimisation of a regime that so flagrantly violates the civil and political rights of its citizens. Given Australia’s recent election to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the government should distance itself from the comments of Mr. Kelly, which are entirely inconsistent with the reports of monitors deployed by the OSCE.