Particular attention was drawn to the recent visit of two French presidential candidates to Armenia and the illegal passage of one of them to the territory of Azerbaijan through Armenia.
How good are the chances of openly pro-Armenian forces in France moving into the Elysee Palace? Why did the right-wing discourse become the focus of the election campaign? Renowned French historian and expert Maxime Gouin answers these and other topical questions
The presidential election is to take place in France in April 2022, and the election campaign is in full swing. The predominance of right-wing discourse has been one of the main distinctive features of this campaign. What caused this bias in the ideological views of the political elite?
I would not put this question this way. The fact is that the left-wing opposition in France has been completely unable to update its program, unlike, say, the Norwegian Labor Party or the Social Democratic Party of Germany. It is also a fact that the right-wing opposition has equally failed to achieve that as well, but the purchase of several media outlets by the far-right French tycoon Vincent Bolloré and the imitative reaction of others have made the simplistic right-wing themes more popular.
At the same time, France remains one of the countries in the world that redistributes most of its gross national product and spends a lot of public funds to save companies and jobs during the pandemic. The right-wing opposition is loud, but economically, it does not dictate anything to the government, and repeated referencing of immigration problems, Islam, etc. currently offers no chance of success, as can be seen from the results of opinion polls.
Why did the religious aspect become so important in these elections, and in an Islamophobic context too? Especially considering the utmost secularity of the French Republic?
In fact, the issue here is not so much religiosity as identitarianism (a white nationalist far-right movement that originated in France and spread to the rest of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand—Ed.). A survey conducted in 2018 showed that about 58% of French people described themselves as people “without religion” (deists, agnostics, atheists). In another survey conducted in 2021, 51% of respondents said that they did not believe in God. As I have already said, the right and far-right opponents have failed to update their party platforms and offer something substantial. In such cases, they usually prefer to simply drift into identitarianism. But who really cares? Anti-Islamic rhetoric did not help Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012; his party also failed to benefit from a similar position in the 2014 European Parliament election, and the choice of a cartoonish Catholic conservative as number one on the list in the 2019 European Parliament election led to an unprecedented fiasco for right-wing MPs.
As you know, two French presidential candidates Éric Zemmour and Valérie Pécresse have now visited Armenia, a foreign state, as part of their election campaign, which indicates their pro-Armenian sentiments. Moreover, Valérie Pécresse illegally visited the Armenian-populated town of Khankendi in the upper part of Karabakh, an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, passing from Armenia through the Lachin corridor, which is under the control of the Russian peacekeepers. The openly biased pro-Armenian stance of the current leader of the French Republic during the 44-day war is also a known fact. Given all this, to what extent does France have the moral right to be a co-chair in the OSCE Minsk Group? And don’t you think Pécresse’s possible victory may deal a serious blow to Azerbaijani-French relations?
As for the Minsk Group, it has been in a state of moral bankruptcy for many years, and France is by far not the main culprit. To my knowledge, your army has not found a single unit of French weapons among the trophies of 2020, whereas the Azerbaijani military used a French surveillance satellite acquired in 2014.
Éric Zemmour himself refused to visit Karabakh and called the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia a “19th century-style territorial conflict “, clearly refusing to call it “civilizational” or “religious”. Valérie Pécresse did much worse, but at the moment she is hardly anything significant. Her chances of being elected are close to zero.
The same cannot be said about Emmanuel Macron, but it would be unfair to focus only on his incorrect statements in September 2020 and forget, for example, that the cabinets appointed by him ordered the governors to task administrative tribunals with canceling the “charters of friendship” between some French municipalities and municipalities of the previously occupied territories of Azerbaijan, such as the city of Shusha. The charters were canceled in 2019 (decisions confirmed in 2020 and 2021 by administrative courts of appeal) precisely because diplomacy is the domain of the Cabinet of Ministers, and France does not recognize the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”, or “Artsakh”.
And finally, Azerbaijan should also consider increasing the funding for actually effective public relations activities in France.
You have been studying the so-called “Armenian Genocide” in the Ottoman Empire for a long time. It is no secret that this “genocide” is the cornerstone of the national identity of the Armenian people… However, there have been quite active discussions on the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia recently. Will Armenia be able to step outside its view of those past events and negotiate with Ankara? And can we then talk about a new political landscape in the South Caucasus?
The conditions for such an impressive change have never been as perfect as they are today, but everyone should understand that this change means the “denzhdehization” of Armenia. The Armenians of Armenia, the only ones who have the right to talk about this South Caucasian republic, are less concerned with the problem of 1915 than those who speak on behalf of the Armenian diaspora from the post-Ottoman space.
However, the revival of nationalism in Armenia, which began before 1991, and the recurrent use of Garegin Nzhdeh’s Nazi doctrine as the backbone of the independent republic did not magically flicker out of existence either in 2020 or in 2021. This ultranationalism has weakened, but school textbooks, mass media, etc. remain essentially the same. It is not too difficult now to separate Armenia from the diaspora extremists, who will not change in any predictable future: they are waging an open war against Nikol Pashinyan, but their candidate Robert Kocharyan suffered a crushing defeat last year. The renunciation of “Nzhdehism” is the biggest issue in the normalization and termination of the 1915-related anti-Turkish Armenian diplomacy. The first concrete proof of Yerevan’s goodwill could be the removal of the Declaration of Independence (containing a paragraph on the Republic of Armenia’s support for the process of international recognition of the Armenian “genocide” in the Ottoman Empire—Ed.), adopted in 1990, from the Constitution of Armenia and guaranteeing the actual right of access to the Armenian national archives in Yerevan.
Interview by Sidghi Shovket
Translated from Haqqin.az