SYDNEY: The Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) has criticised the attempted silencing of elected Australian representatives by the petro-dictatorship of Azerbaijan and its representatives, who have used diplomatic channels to formally protest the recent achievements in the area of Artsakh advocacy announced during the visit of a delegation from Stepanakert for meetings in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

Baku has not taken kindly to the federal, state and local government welcomes received by the delegation led by Artsakh’s Foreign Minister Masis Mayilyan, as well as the Ryde City-Stepanakert Friendship City relationship announcement, and the launch of the Australian Friends of Artsakh with 40 inaugural signatories – all prominent Australians in politics, academia and civil society – pledging to support the fundamental human right to self-determination for the Armenians of the Republic of Artsakh.

Leyla Abdullayeva, who is the spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, released a statement to reassure supporters that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been seriously in charge of and has taken a number of measures recently with regard to the activities of the Armenian diaspora organisations of Australia in promoting the illegal separatist regime in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, as well as the statements by the Australian official of Armenian origin”.

She added that the Australia’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan – who is based in Turkey – had been called in to a meeting in Baku to discuss the developments, revealing “the Chargé d’Affaires of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Commonwealth of Australia presented the note verbal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Australia. Also our protest was brought to the attention of the Ambassador of Australia in the meeting held at the MFA of Azerbaijan”.

Abdullayeva also stated that Azerbaijan’s “Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has sent an official letter to his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne. In his letter, Minister Mammadyarov referring to the position of international community on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”.

ANC-AU Executive Director Haig Kayserian called out this attempted interference into Australian affairs.

“We’re talking about the interference into Australian affairs by a country which is a notorious jailer – and kidnapper outside of Azerbaijan – of journalists and opposition figures, a country which is embroiled in an international bribery scandal with the Azerbaijani Laundromat, and which regularly violates the internationally brokered Nagorno Karabakh ceasefire, killing innocent Armenians who are indigenous to the Republic of Artsakh,” said Kayserian.

“It would seem they have enough issues to deal with before trying to apply pressure on elected Australian officials to discourage them from doing what they know is right – backing the human right of self-determination of the indigenous Armenians of the Republic of Artsakh.”

Mammadyarov’s correspondence to Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne apparently expressed that the successes in Artsakh advocacy announced over the past week “contradict the expressed official position of the Federal Government of Australia and reminded that such steps in relation to the illegal separatist regime were not in line with the well-known international practice and constitute a flagrant violation of the norms of international law”.

“While it is stated that Canberra has reassured Baku that their official, contradictory position of ‘supporting the OSCE Minsk Process while backing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity’ has not changed, it is clearly not lost on Azerbaijan that the formation of a group of 40 prominent Australians, including a bipartisan collective of Ministers, Shadow Ministers and Parliamentarians, is a significant blow to the smokescreen they have been selling countries like Australia in recent years,” added Kayserian.

“The Armenian-Australian community is made up largely of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenia that our ancestors were forced to flee included an Armenian Artsakh, which is why officials we elect have extended their ears and support to our concerns about Azerbaijani aggression and war-mongering. The truth is coming out, and it seems this has brought out the worst in Baku.”

“We encourage Australia’s foreign ministry and the government to outright reject calls from a foreign dictatorship to silence our democratic nation’s freedom of expression, which begins with our elected officials,” he said.

The New South Wales Parliament recognised the Republic of Artsakh in 2012 and Ryde City Council followed suit in 2018. Last week, Ryde City unanimously passed a resolution forming a Friendship City relationship with Artsakh’s capital Stepanakert.

This week saw the announcement of the Australian Friends of Artsakh – a newly-formed group of 40 prominent Australians, including Federal Ministers and Parliamentarians, a State Premier and fellow State Parliamentarians, a Mayor and Councillors, academics, thought leaders, and heads of several religious and community institutions.

The Federal contingent of signatories is led by Australia’s Communications Minister the Hon. Paul Fletcher MP, Assistant Treasurer the Hon. Michael Sukkar MP, Shadow Home Affairs Minister the Hon. Senator Kristina Keneally and Shadow Agriculture & Resources Minister the Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon MP.

Fitzgibbon is the co-convenor of the Armenia-Australia Inter-Parliamentary Union along with the Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Health, Aged Care & Sport Trent Zimmerman MP, who also joined the Australian Friends of Artsakh, along with fellow Chairs of Federal Parliamentary Committees including John Alexander MP, Julian Leeser MP, Jason Falinski MP and Tim Wilson MP – who is the only Member of Australia’s Federal Parliament with Armenian heritage. Newly elected Josh Burns MP is also a friend of Artsakh.

The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP, who is most prominent among Armenian-Australians as the Premier of Australia’s largest state of New South Wales, leads the list of State Parliamentarians among the inaugural Australian Friends of Artsakh, which also includes Speaker of NSW Parliament’s House of Representatives the Hon. Jonathan O’Dea MP and his fellow convenor of the NSW Armenia-Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group, Shadow Treasurer the Hon. Walt Secord MLC.

Dr. Hugh McDermott MP and Rev. Fred Nile MLC are also among the current NSW parliamentarians to join the group, along with former state political representatives including Marie Ficarra and Amanda Fazio.

Among other inaugural signatories to the Australian Friends of Artsakh include Ryde City’s Mayor Jerome Laxale and Councillor Sarkis Yedelian, along with several Councillors from Ryde City and Willoughby City.

A number of academics and civil society leaders have also signed on to support Artsakh, including Professor Peter Stanley, Dr. Sev Ozdowski, Dr. Panayiotis Diamadis, Dr. Brian Owler and Chris Crewther.

Leaders of communities and churches have joined the Australian Friends of Artsakh as inaugural signatories, led by the President of the NSW Ecumenical Council and the President of the Australasian Middle East Christian Apostolic Churches.