France stood next to Armenia, Germany, and the European Union to release a statement on October 5 voicing support for the Armenian territorial integrity and sovereignty against alleged aggression by Azerbaijan. The statement was all but a repetition of allegations about the “mass displacement” of ethnic Armenians by Azerbaijan from the Garabagh region.
Azerbaijani President’s Representative for Special Assignments, Elchin Amirbayov, said Azerbaijan’s credibility in France as even a potential mediator in the process of normalising relations with Armenia today is zero.
“The rabid support for Armenia from the current political leadership of France has led to a situation where no one in Azerbaijan is ready, even theoretically, to consider Paris as a party capable of making at least some useful contribution to promoting the normalisation of relations between Baku and Yerevan. But quite the opposite,” he said in a recent interview with Radio France.
According to Amirbayov, Paris’ endeavours to bring military-technical cooperation with Yerevan to a new qualitative level, including the start of supplies to its de facto ally of weapons and military equipment, rings alarm bells of the new hostilities in the region.
“Such a reckless step by France not only negates its unbridled ambitions as a “peacemaker,” but also brings the region to a new dangerous level of military confrontation, inciting Armenia to new deadly provocations and new aggression against Azerbaijan,” he said.
By the way, in a joint statement on October 5, France called for “the strict adherence to the principle of non-use of force and threat of use of force”.
But remarks by the French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna in Yerevan earlier this week contradict this call. Colonna expressed the Macron administration’s readiness to supply Armenia with made-in-France military equipment.
“France has given its agreement to the conclusion of future contracts with Armenia which will allow the delivery of military equipment to Armenia so that it can ensure its defence,” she told reporters in Armenia’s capital on October 3.
According to her, “there are things that were already agreed between Armenia and France and that are in progress”.
History is rich in facts about Armenia’s attempt to ensure its “defence”. For instance, for “defence” purposes in 1991-1994, it attacked Azerbaijan, occupying 20 per cent of its neighbour’s sovereign territory, where it buried at least one million landmines. In 2016, it came up with the next “defence” measures causing a four-day deadly war with Azerbaijan. Later in July 2020, Armenia “defended” itself by launching an offensive on the Azerbaijani borders. In September of the same year, the “defence” attempts of Armenia catapulted a 44-day war with Azerbaijan, killing thousands on both sides.
Armenia’s “defence” measures continued post-2020 war despite its defeat and retreat. In September 2021, tensions on the border with Azerbaijan escalated to deadly skirmishes. Afterwards, Armenia “defended” itself by arming the separatists it propped up in the Garabagh region of Azerbaijan. And so on …
Now, France intends to open a new “defence” chapter for Armenia by arming it with modern military equipment. If it continues delivering on its commitments, the South Caucasus is likely to get pregnant for the new round of hostilities.
France – an impartial mediator
During Armenia’s occupation of the Azerbaijani territories region from 1994-2020, France served as one of three countries chairing the OSCE Minsk Group, a mediation structure tasked with bringing a peaceful end to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. However, the Group’s shuttle diplomacy failed to deliver on its commitments over nearly 30 years.
In addition, despite the Minsk Group’s charter calling for neutrality in the negotiation process under the chairmanship mandate, France took Armenia’s side during the 44-day war between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan from September 27 through November 9, 2020. President Emmanuel Macron voiced solidarity with Armenia on the fourth day of the fighting on September 30, 2020. The French government, French towns, and aid groups spared no effort to help Armenia, with French cargo flights delivering medical supplies and other assistance tools to Yerevan.
Following the 2020 war, the French Senate and lower house of the French parliament adopted resolutions to push the government to green-light the recognition of the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh”, although even Armenia itself rejected recognizing the illegal separatist regime in Azerbaijani lands.
In November 2022, the French Senate adopted a biased anti-Azerbaijan resolution, calling for condemnation of the so-called “aggression” by Azerbaijan against Armenia, withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from the allegedly Armenian territory, sanctions against Azerbaijan, and all-out support by France for Armenia and the Armenian separatists in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan by recognizing the self-designed bogus separatist regime. The resolution came after a deadly border incident between Armenia and Azerbaijan in September 2022, which ensued after the Armenian military’s attempts to regain positions lost in the 2020 war.
When Azerbaijan took control over the Lachin road, a highway connecting Armenia with the Garabagh region, under control in April, France was quick to spew accusations against Baku unlike its silence over the illegal arms supplies to the Armenian separatists on the same route. Although the road was open for humanitarian movements, Paris did not step back to analyze the real situation on the ground.
Macron’s government attempted in August to send unauthorized humanitarian aid to the Armenian minority of Garabagh without Azerbaijan’s consent. Baku did not allow the French convoy, accompanied by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, to enter its borders.
Currently, the “cocks” are staunchly focused on the voluntary relocation of ethnic Armenians from Garabagh as the next hot point to slander Azerbaijan. Paris is convinced that Azerbaijan forcibly expels these people. However, a fact-finding mission of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross officials, as well as international media outlets have so far reported no case of forcible displacement, intimidation, persecution or any other forms of harassment by the Azerbaijani side against the Garabagh region’s Armenians.
The Armenian minority is voluntarily leaving the region despite the calls by the Azerbaijani authorities to stay and reintegrate. Baku has been sending tens of tons of humanitarian aid to these people since September 22. Employees from the State Migration Service and the Labour and Social Protection Ministry have been deployed in Khankendi to register those willing to stay. A special online reintegration portal was launched to facilitate the reintegration process.
However, France has been attempting to fuel the “ethnic cleansing” narrative by trumpeting the allegations placed by Yerevan, and also by announcing financial aid to help “Armenian refugees” from Garabagh. Following a decision by Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, Paris is expected to provide an additional €7 million in financial assistance for NGOs, UN agencies and the Armenian Red Cross Society “to welcome these people and cover their social welfare, medical and financial expenses”. It will put the total amount of French financial aid to Armenia since the beginning of 2023 at €12.5 million. Paris has already provided €5.5 million since early 2023 to support “refugees and displaced persons in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh”.
Notwithstanding the French antipathy with Azerbaijan, reality does not change. Azerbaijan is the largest and strongest country in the South Caucasus. Those who want to engage in the region in this or another way have to reckon with Baku. Otherwise, a strong and reliable partner may turn away with no way back …