Azerbaijan’s government was not happy when the head of the state government of New South Wales in Australia voiced support for the illegal separatist regime in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, putting her at odds with Canberra’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
Gladis Berejiklian, the state’s premier of Armenian descent, said in an interview with Armen Press during her visit to Yerevan on July 19 that it has been 20 years that New South Wales has recognized Nagorno-Karabakh – a region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been occupied by Armenia – as an independent state.
Berejiklian said she has visited the Nagorno-Karabakh region on two separate occasions and urges friends to visit the region.
Leyla Abdullayeva, a spokesperson in Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry, said in an official statement issued on the same day that the recognition of the illegal separatist regime in the occupied lands of Azerbaijan as a legal authority cannot be a subject of a conversation at all.
“The Nagorno-Karabakh region that is under the military occupation of the Armenian armed forces and the so-called separatist regime established here are not even recognized by any sovereign state of the world, even by occupying Armenia,” Abdullayeva said in a statement.
She went on to explain that the Australian government does not recognize the illegal separatist regime, as no other country does.
“Australia unambiguously recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and officials of the country have repeatedly stated this in their statements and official letters and notes verbales addressed to Azerbaijan.”
Australia’s governor general, Peter Cosgrove, said in a letter addressed to Azerbaijan’s President llham Aliyev and dated May 20 that Canberra remains a strong supporter of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Former Foreign Minister of Australia Julie Bishop and the former Minister for International Development and Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells have also voiced Canberra’s support to ending the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region within the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan respectively in 2015 and 2017, according to the Foreign Ministry of Baku.
“Statements made by the premier of the New South Wales in Armenia clearly contradict the official position of the federal government [of Australia], and in our opinion, it should be warned that the state official should act in accordance with the foreign policy course of her country,” Abdullayeva said in the statement on July 19.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region, that is the internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, has turned into a hotbed of conflict since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Armenia used that event as an opportunity to invade Azerbaijan and claim lands where partial ethnic Armenian population was living side-by-side with indigenous Azerbaijanis. What were initially verbal claims gradually morphed into violence against Azerbaijanis, and ultimately led to a full-fledged war launched by Armenia in 1991.
The all-out military conflict lasted until the signing of a ceasefire in 1994. By the time the ceasefire went into effect in 1994, Armenia forcibly occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory, which includes the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. The war claimed the lives of over 30,000 Azerbaijanis and expelled one million more from their homeland. In 1993, the United Nations Security Council passed four legally binding resolutions demanding Armenia to pull its armed forces back from the occupied territories, but all four go unfulfilled to this day.
A report published on the official website of the European Council on Foreign Relations has called the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region one of seven “gray zones” that “litter the map of Eastern Europe.” Others include Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine; Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia; and Transnistria in Moldova.