Victorian MPs abandon plans to establish a Parliamentary Friends of Azerbaijan group

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

Late on Monday, June 17, the ANC-AU 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 120,000 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 various documented instances of the destruction and desecration of Armenian cultural and religious institutions in Artsakh under Azerbaijani occupation.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have already fought two wars over Karabakh in the three decades
Armenia and Azerbaijan have already fought two wars over Karabakh in three decades.

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, SEKA Victoria (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.

“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,” Mr Kolokossian said.

“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.”

Source: Armenian National Committee of Australia.

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