The South Caucasus is a region plagued by perpetual conflict. Within it sits Armenia, a country with one of the oldest cultures on Earth that has historically been caught between various conflicting empires.
Armenia now faces a humanitarian and cultural catastrophe, and Azerbaijan’s actions against it have drawn the ire of the international community. France in particular has taken a stand. Paris is currently preparing a defense cooperation agreement with Armenia and building a new consulate in Syunik province.
Paris’ growing relationship with Yerevan could draw Washington into the fold — something that is needed to stop new conflicts from cropping up and preventing the ethnic cleansing that could mark any new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
A Humanitarian Catastrophe in Karabakh
As the United Nations General Assembly got underway, on Sept. 19-20 Azerbaijan conducted a military offensive in Karabakh, seeking to destroy the remaining Armenian militias in the region. The Azerbaijani military, supplemented by renewed weapons shipments from Turkey and Israel, quickly defeated the Artsakh Defense Forces. In the ensuing chaos, more than 100,000 Armenians fled the region.
Azerbaijan claims this was not ethnic cleansing and insists that Baku has no intentions of carrying out such an act. But statements by the European Union and the United States told a different story, with calls for sanctions and for reviewing the Western partnership with Baku.
During the 2020 war and Azerbaijan’s 2022 border invasion of Armenia, Azerbaijan’s forces committed an array of war crimes, such as beheadings of Armenian civilians and sexual assaults of female Armenian POWs. These are gross violations of the Geneva Conventions.
Fearing they might suffer under the cruel watch of the Azerbaijani military and the lack of enforcement or care by Russian peacekeepers, the Armenian community hastily fled, triggering a refugee crisis.
Where the East and West are Lukewarm, France Steps Up
While most of the West has stayed silent, France has done much to come to Armenia’s aid. Paris has grown its relationship with Yerevan, and France is one of the few countries to condemn and warn of Baku’s actions in the aftermath of the 2020 war.
Russia, which uses information warfare against France in the latter’s former colonies, has also turned to hybrid warfare methods against Armenia over the past few years as the Yerevan-Moscow relationship has drifted. France, meanwhile, has a history of responding to the plight of Armenians that stems back to the rescues during the Armenian Genocide at Musa Dagh.
The French foreign minister and senate recently approved a military aid package, and France’s plan to create a consulate in Syunik comes as Azerbaijan and Turkey step up warlike rhetoric against the Armenian province over the Zangezur Corridor. France and Lithuania were also vocal in condemning Azerbaijan’s military aggression, recognizing that even though Baku promised “integration,” it used fear and intimidation against Karabakh Armenians.
France’s move toward Armenia is opportunistic for both nations. Armenia is looking for a path to Western integration after multiple false promises and failures by Russia. At the same time, France hopes to be the first NATO member-state to have an actual presence in a region that has been under the forceful watch of the Kremlin for hundreds of years.
French Aid to Armenia Could Intertwine with Future U.S. Cooperation
One effect of growing French cooperation with Armenia is that the partnership might bring America into the fold. U.S. foreign policy, after all, has continuously crossed paths with France’s geopolitical ambitions since World War II.
Initially supporting decolonization efforts, the United States condemned the tripartite French-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt, known as the Suez Canal Crisis. America would also come to the aid of the Lebanese government during the 1958 Civil War, as France could not provide military assistance due to their war in Algeria.
During the height of tensions between France and Vietnam, the U.S. took the French side over the pro-American Ho Chi Minh, which led to the brutal Indochina Wars.
France is one of the three NATO members, along with Turkey and the U.S., to maintain force projection even after most of the alliance went through decades of steady demilitarization. With Turkey and the U.S. drifting apart, Washington now looks to Paris as the top NATO partner in force projection.
American and French forces worked in tandem in anti-terror operations in the Sahel. Washington supplemented Paris in the diplomatic and military fields, trying to make up for the influence France had lost in its former colonies.
Meanwhile, the United States has grown closer to Armenia, especially since the 2022 clashes mended by an American-brokered ceasefire. The first joint military exercises in Syunik province, in early September, helped solidify a growing partnership. Armenia has the potential to become a major non-NATO ally akin to South Korea, Japan, Israel, or Ukraine.
France’s growing relations with Armenia can serve as a conduit for increasing American diplomatic and military aid for the next several years, as the actions of Turkey and Azerbaijan have put the U.S. military support for these nations under question. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has rescinded all territorial claims against his neighbor. At the same time, Aliyev refused a Western-backed reconciliation.
Putin has quietly grown closer to Azerbaijan, whose gas offers a way to evade Western sanctions, whereas Armenia has drifted West, with French diplomacy being a prime engagement factor.
With Russian influence waning, the West can finally begin to integrate a key country in a region it ignored after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
About the Author
Julian McBride, a former U.S. Marine, is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflicts, rogue geopolitics, and war, and also tells the stories of war victims whose voices are never heard. Julian is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”