Fenech Adami faces Azerbaijani envoy on democracy, gay rights failings

In foreign affairs committee meeting with Azerbaijani envoy, Nationalist MP asks for reactions to SOCAR investment in Electrogas and ongoing investigations

Elchin Amarbayov
Elchin Amarbayov

Shadow foreign minister Beppe Fenech Adami challenged the special envoy from Azerbaijan to Malta to explain his country’s shortcomings on democracy and gay rights, during a meeting held in parliament’s foreign and European affairs committee.

There was little to add to the debate however, with the Elchin Amarbayov’s insistence to deal with the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where tensions are running high between Azerbaijan and Armenia over this territory, the cause of two wars between them in the past three decades.

Fenech Adami asked that Amarbayov give his own country’s views on the role of state energy company SOCAR in the Electrogas consortium that commissioned Malta’s €200 million gas plant.

“I’m sure you are aware of this being one of the most controversial issues in Malta,” Fenech Adami said, referring to the ongoing PAC sessions grilling former ministers on the National Audit Office’s investigation into the gas plant procurement, as well as the charges against Electrogas shareholder Yorgen Fenech on allegedly masterminding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

“I have nothing to comment on your internal affairs,” Amarbayov replied drily, turning the accusation on its head by praising SOCAR’s gas prices. “What I know is that SOCAR has been heavily involved in ensuring your energy security. Because of this project, the price of energy has dropped significantly, which is appreciated by ordinary people.”

Amarbayov said he regretted any tragic events that had happened, referring to the Caruana Galizia assassination. “But I have no comment to make on this: the keyword you used were allegations, and until something is proved, it remains an allegation.”

Amarbayov also gave short shrift to Fenech Adami’s complaints about new rules in Azerbaijan regulating political parties, which the Nationalist MP said would lead to the extinction of several opposition parties.

Azerbaijan’s three most prominent opposition parties have been denied registration by the state and face the possibility of being disbanded. They failed to meet the key criterion of the country’s new and highly restrictive law on political parties – proving that they have at least 5,000 members. Any deregistered party is prohibited from holding meetings and making financial transactions. The Republican Alternative (REAL) Party, which is represented in the country’s near-totally pro-government parliament with one member, was the first victim.

“I appreciate your keen interest in the development of democracy in Azerbaijan... this law has undergone discussion between the country’s political forces... I ask all our frieds to respect our parliament’s sovereign right to develop the laws that govern internal life,” Amarbayov said, saying the law would also be examined by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

Fenech Adami also raised the question of Azerbaijani being a laggard in gay rights across Europe, being one of the three countries – with Turkey and Armenia – at the bottom of ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe scale in 2023.

Amarbayov congraulated the MPs on the hosting of Europride, but appeared to disgaree with Fenech Adami’s description of Azerbaijan being “behind” in LGBTQI rights. “I leave this to your conscience... we follow our own way, and every citizen in Azerbaijan enjoys the same rights.”


Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh by Armenians, is a landlocked mountainous area in the Caucasus region. It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but its inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenians, who number about 120,000. They have their own government which has enjoyed close links to Armenia's but has not been officially recognised by Armenia or any other country.

Armenians, who are Christians, claim a long presence in the area, dating back to several centuries before Christ. Azerbaijan, whose inhabitants are mostly Muslim, also claims deep historical ties to the region, which over the centuries has come under the sway of Persians, Turks and Russians. Under the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh became an autonomous region within the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

In December 2022 Azeri civilians began blocking the Lachin corridor, and in April 2023 Azerbaijan established a new security checkpoint along it. These moves cut off the flow of people and goods between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh except for urgent medical evacuations, creating what the United States and others called a “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation”. Azerbaijan says it acted to prevent the road being used to smuggle weapons.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of building up troops near their shared border and around Karabakh in the past week, prompting fears among residents of both capitals that war could break out again.

Amarbayov told MPs in the foreign affairs committee that his country held the separatist Armenian forces in the region responsible for any humanitarian issues emanating from blocked routes of delivery for medicines and essential staples.

Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield welcomed news of positive developments on peace talks between both sides, and said Malta would always be open to assist both countries in reaching a peaceful agreement.