French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, was updated on the challenges created by Armenia that impede the normalization process with Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan’s efforts to resume peace negotiations. Colonna held talks with President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov during her one-day visit to Azerbaijan on Thursday to discuss bilateral issues and the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process.
President Aliyev briefed Colonna on Armenia’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the Trilateral Statement signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 10, 2020. He cited Armenia’s hindrance of creating a corridor to Azerbaijan’s southwestern exclave of Nakhchivan, refusal to withdraw troops from Azerbaijani lands where Russian peacekeepers are temporarily deployed, and misuse of the Lachin corridor for military equipment transfers.
Additionally, President Aliyev mentioned that the opening of a checkpoint on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border at the start of the Lachin-Khankendi road is the manifestation of the fact that Azerbaijan had ensured its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On April 23, the State Border Service of Azerbaijan erected a checkpoint at the start of the Lachin road on the border with Armenia. The Lachin road is the communication link between Armenia and Azerbaijan's Karabakh (Garabagh) region. The decision was made due to recurrent illegal arms transfers from Armenia to the Karabakh region via this highway and unpaved roads bypassing it. Despite warnings from Azerbaijan and local control measures, these attempts persisted with the aim of militarizing Azerbaijani territories partially inhabited by Armenian residents.
The new checkpoint aims to ensure the transparency, safety and lawful use of the Lachin road for humanitarian purposes in accordance with the Trilateral Statement. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry noted that establishing a border checkpoint on its sovereign territory is within Azerbaijan's legitimate right and complies with all international regulations.
“Any intervention of Armenia in the establishment of a border checkpoint by Azerbaijan on its sovereign territory, which is an internal matter, is a claim against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and is against the commitments undertaken by Armenia in Prague and Sochi, as well as all the norms and principles of international law,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
At her meetings with the president and foreign minister of Azerbaijan, Colonna affirmed that France prioritizes peace, economic, and social development in the South Caucasus region, an issue that has long been on Paris’ agenda.
“Today there is a chance for peace. Azerbaijan takes the initiative for peace. We welcome it. I want the peace process to continue with negotiations. We, really, want peace to finally be ensured,” Colonna said, adding that France has always worked for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Minister Bayramov noted that Azerbaijan had publicly expressed its desire for peace and presented basic principles for signing a peace treaty with Armenia after the 2020 Karabakh War. However, Bayramov stated that Armenia’s actions to undermine the peace process had not elicited a response from Paris.
“France did not make calls on Armenia. In the post-conflict period, certain disagreements surfaced in relations with France. Despite this, Azerbaijan continued contact even during the period of tension. We are always open to contacts,” Bayramov said, according to reports by local media.
Colonna in Yerevan
Catherine Colonna continued her visit to the South Caucasus in Armenia, meeting with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan and visiting the European mission headquarters on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in the Jermuk region. Colonna reiterated France’s support for Yerevan “in the search for a just and sustainable peace,” while also accusing Azerbaijan of taking unilateral actions, including the establishment of the border checkpoint on the Lachin road, which both she and Pashinyan called “unacceptable.” Colonna also called on Baku to “unblock” the road connecting Armenia with the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.
She further announced the establishment of a military mission at the French embassy in Yerevan to deepen bilateral cooperation in defense.
“As for defense, the creation of a military mission at the French Embassy in Armenia should provide an opportunity to deepen our bilateral cooperation in this key area,” Colonna told the Armenian state news agency Armenpress on Thursday, Interfax Azerbaijan reports.
French support for Armenia
During Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh 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.