Unwanted Meddling in Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Talks Jeopardizes Progress (OPINION)

By Vasif Hüseynov

On June 1, on the sidelines of the second summit of the European Political Community (EPC) in Chisinau, Moldova, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan came together to discuss their peace process with the participation of three European leaders (President Charles Michel of European Council, President Emmanuel Macron of France, and Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz of Germany). It was the second time for the French President since the end of the Second Karabakh War to sit at the negotiations table between the two South Caucasian republics after the similar occasion on the sidelines of the first summit of the EPC in Prague on October 6, 2022 – If we don’t count the February 4, 2022 virtual meeting between the sides where President Macron accompanied President Michel.

The French President’s involvement in these negotiations, typically conducted in a trilateral format between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders alongside President Michel in Brussels, has sparked significant opposition in Baku. Both the government and the society of Azerbaijan have openly urged President Macron not to interfere in the talks. The reasons for these objections are evident: France has consistently displayed biased support towards Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan, openly endorsing Yerevan's unlawful demands and narratives.

In the course of the First Karabakh War, France took a pro-Armenian position at the UN Security Council discussions about the war and sought to exculpate Armenia for its invasion at the time those discussions were held. France’s representative at the Council succeeded to minimize the consequences of the body’s resolutions for Armenia, despite the fact that this country’s armed forces were ethnically cleansing the internationally-recognized territories of Azerbaijan, killing innocent civilians and destroying the towns and villages. At the insistence of France, the perpetrators of the invasion were mentioned as “local Armenian forces” (ie not Armenia as a State) and the conflict was treated not under the Chapter VII of the UN Charter as an “act of aggression,” but under the weaker Chapter VI as a dispute that should be settled peacefully.

This support by the official Paris to Armenia persisted during the entire conflict period, despite the fact that France, as a co-chair of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was required to be neutral and coordinate the peace negotiations.

French parliamentarians in late 2020, following the Second Karabakh War, did not shy away from unanimously adopting legislative documents calling for the recognition of the independence of a puppet entity called the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” once established in the sovereign territories of Azerbaijan. They did not stop this illegal support even after the Armenian Prime Minister recognized Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the Prague summit of the EPC on October 6, 2022, when President Macron was also present. Next month, in November of that year, the French Senate adopted a resolution calling for sanctions to be imposed against Azerbaijan and for France to recognize the illegal Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Two weeks after the Senate’s resolution, the French National Assembly has unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the government to consider imposing sanctions on unnamed Azerbaijanis.

The position of the French President is also controversial. President Emmanuel Macron, in a statement in October 2022, again after the Prague summit, accused Azerbaijan of launching “a terrible war” in 2020 to retake the Karabakh region, as well as triggered “offensives” in mid-September (2022) on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. Macron did not go as far as recognizing the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”, but he named the region where it is located as “disputed territory” – even though he himself two years ago admitted that “Nagorno-Karabakh” is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

In the aftermath of this statement and the above-mentioned legislative documents, Azerbaijan refused to attend the next summit in Brussels (December 7, 2022) as again the French President attempted to sit at the table along with President Michel. This intervention by France had almost derailed the Brussels format. No new summits took place in the trilateral format of Brussels due to France’s intervention until the May 14 summit this year – which was possible thanks to the efforts of the United States.

Following the May 14 summit, where the Armenian side reaffirmed their recognition of the Karabakh region as part of Azerbaijan, Baku did not oppose the initiative to meet with the Armenian Minister in the Chisinau summit which was attended also by President Macron as well as Bundeskanzler Scholz. The German leader’s attendance was likely an attempt to calm the Azerbaijani side due to the participation of the French President.

Nevertheless, this occasion was again misused by the French President. Despite the fact that the press release on the results of the meeting by tradition was given by Charles Michel as an organizer of the Brussels format, the French President shared its own statement after the meeting which expressed a position that is not shared by all parties. In its response, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, criticized France’s action, stating that “Unfortunately, this is not the first case of such behavior by France, and it does not make a positive contribution to the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as to peace and stability in the region.”

These all are observed with concern by the Azerbaijani people at multiple levels. It is indeed unclear for many why France disregards the international law and principles and takes such an unfriendly position against Azerbaijan. The reasons for this may be a subject to extended discussions but it is certain that Azerbaijan does not want to see the representative of this country as a mediator at the negotiations table. No matter it is informal (as the latest meeting on the sidelines of the EPC summit is presented) or formal, the intervention of the French side complicates the larger peace efforts of the European Union.

Vasif Huseynov, head of department at the AIR Center, exclusively for News.Az

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