The French Minister of Foreign Affairs. Catherine Colonna goes there to relaunch French mediation in this conflict in the heart of the Caucasus, a latent conflict overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.
The objective displayed by the Quai d’Orsay is ambitious: “A just, lasting peace, respectful of territorial integrity and the principles of international law.” It will not be easy between these two countries which are at loggerheads. Two wars have already opposed them over the past 30 years. Armenia fears being left to its fate. It is three times smaller, three times less populated and much less economically powerful than Azerbaijan.
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna will visit each camp. First, Wednesday, April 26 in Baku, Azerbaijan, to meet the very authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev, then Thursday in Yerevan, Armenia for talks with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will also take the opportunity to meditate at the Armenian genocide memorial, the 108th anniversary of which was commemorated on Monday, April 24.
The voluntarism of French diplomacy in this dossier is nothing new. In the fall of 2022 in Prague, Emmanuel Macron had initiated a direct meeting between the two Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, but without really having any effect.
Nagorno-Karabakh Under Azerbaijani Blockade
The tension has even risen sharply since December and Azerbaijan is preventing access to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. This mountainous area disputed between the two countries, but populated overwhelmingly by Armenians (about 120,000) claims its autonomy under the name of Artsakh. For four months, the area has been under a real blockade, further reinforced in recent days since Azerbaijan established a checkpoint at the entrance to the Lachin corridor. This strip of land, only five kilometers wide, connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
On the spot, everything is missing: ration tickets had to be put in place, electricity and heating are restricted, unemployment is massive. Azerbaijan claims to want both to curb arms trafficking and illegal exploitation of mines in the region. But this blocking contravenes a decision of the International Court of Justice. For Armenia, the real objective of Azerbaijan is “ethnic cleansing”: to force all the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to flee in order to regain control of the territory. Clashes in the border area regularly lead to deaths.
The Balancing Act of Europeans
Diplomacy therefore has a hard time imposing itself. The Europeans are balancing. They are tempted to defend Armenia: historical ties are stronger and the regime is far more democratic. But economic realism pushes them to spare Azerbaijan, a large supplier of gas: in the summer of 2022, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, had qualified Azerbaijan as a “reliable partner”. Armenia has not digested this formula and denounces “a double standard” of Europeans given their involvement in Ukraine.
The key to a possible resolution of the conflict undoubtedly lies more in Moscow. Russia, the godfather of the region, theoretically guarantor of peace between the two countries with many soldiers deployed in the area. But Moscow is focused on Ukraine. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are therefore also “collateral victims” of the war in Ukraine.
This article is originally published on francetvinfo.fr