EXCLUSIVE: French Foreign Minister on Armenia relations, Nagorno Karabakh conflict
YEREVAN, APRIL 28, ARMENPRESS. Minister of Foreign Affairs of France Catherine Colonna says the obstruction by Azerbaijan of movement along the Lachin Corridor is unacceptable and is fraught with serious dangers of economic and humanitarian crisis for the population of Nagorno Karabakh.
In an exclusive interview with ARMENPRESS, French FM Catherine Colonna stressed that this conduct by Azerbaijan also obstructs the peace talks with Armenia. She also expressed concern over the installation of a checkpoint in the Lachin Corridor by Azerbaijan.
Colonna said that France will support any solution that would allow to guarantee the Armenian population in Nagorno Karabakh to continue to live there safely, by preserving its history, heritage and culture.
FM Colonna also talked about the Armenian-French relations and addressed her message on the occasion of the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
ARMENPRESS: Your Excellency, Nagorno Karabakh has been blockaded by Azerbaijan for already four months and the people of Nagorno Karabakh have appeared on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. The international community, including France, have found the blockade of the Lachin Corridor to be unacceptable and have urged Azerbaijan to ensure free movement of people and vehicles along the Lachin Corridor. Recently the International Court of Justice ordered Azerbaijan to immediately open the corridor and ensure free movement, however Azerbaijan continues to keep the corridor closed, ignoring all calls by the international community and the International Court of Justice ruling. Don’t you think it is time for the international community to start taking clear actions in order for Azerbaijan to end the blockade of Nagorno Karabakh? What steps is France ready to take in this direction? Do you consider the option of sanctioning Azerbaijan? Given the fact that Azerbaijan doesn’t stop its aggressive actions also against Armenia, what practical steps are the EU and France ready to take in the direction of implementing the solution proposing to deploy the troops at a safe distance along the 1991 border of Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna: The obstruction of movement along the Lachin Corridor since 12 December is unacceptable. I’ve had multiple occasions to express the position of France in this regard. This situation is unacceptable because it is fraught with serious dangers of economic and humanitarian crisis for the population of Nagorno Karabakh. It is also obstructing the continuation of the peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, to which Prime Minister Pashinyan is decisively committed to, and it poses a serious threat to regional stability, which is already deeply impacted by the current geopolitical context. We must together assess the consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
What we are going through today is the return of war to our continent. However, more fundamentally, this is also a conscious attempt to dispute the fundamental principles of the international order which is based on law, substituting it with the law of strength. This is a crucial moment, which must force each and every one to assess their responsibility and realize that peace is our most precious value.
A few weeks ago the International Court of Justice delivered a ruling during a brief hearing, demanding Baku to take all means within its authority to ensure movement along the corridor. The ruling is binding for everyone, and it must be respected. In this regard, the decision by Azerbaijan to install a checkpoint at the entrance of the new road in Lachin Corridor is deeply concerning, as noted by the European Union and the United States.
France wants all disputes to be resolved exclusively through negotiations. This is the foundation of France’s commitment, next with the EU. And I am visiting Azerbaijan and Armenia this week to make this call to responsibility, resumption of talks and respect for the law to be heard.
ARMENPRESS: The President of Azerbaijan insists that the Nagorno Karabakh issue is an internal matter and that they are not going to discuss it with anyone, whereas the Armenian side, in context of normalizing relations with Azerbaijan, is advancing the issue of forming an international mechanism for dialogue between Baku and Nagorno Karabakh and international guarantees for ensuring the security and rights of Nagorno Karabakh. What is the position of France, also as a Co-Chairing country of the OSCE Minsk Group, in this issue?
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna: We want negotiations to begin – with support of the international community – between the representatives of Nagorno Karabakh and the Azerbaijani authorities around the content of the population’s rights and guarantees. This implies that favorable conditions must be created for the negotiations, namely around the issue of restoring free movement along Lachin Corridor.
France will support any solution that would allow to guarantee that the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh can continue to live there safely, by preserving its history, heritage and culture. It is their inalienable right.
ARMENPRESS: Could you please also comment on the current level of the Armenian-French relations? How do you assess the cooperation between Armenia and France in various fields and in which sectors do you see the potential for deepening partnership?
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna: The relations between our two countries are exclusive and developed over the course of a common history, with both joyful and painful moments. Today, these relations are developing between both the two governments and civil societies.
France is decisively supporting the efforts by Mr. Pashinyan’s government aimed at strengthening democracy and the rule of law in Armenia and developing the economy. The courageous choice of democracy by Armenia must receive support, to which we are committed to together with other members of the international community and the European Union.
In December 2021 we signed an ambitious roadmap for economic cooperation, and recently the Ambitions: France-Armenia Forum was held in Paris, and we opened an office of the French Development Agency (AFD) in Yerevan. The AFD is engaged in productive dialogue with the authorities of Armenia to implement new projects, particularly in the fields of water and sustainable energy. Last year the volumes of our bilateral trade grew significantly, and we try to continue this trend, including by supporting French companies who want to invest in Armenia, like Veolia, Pernod Ricard, Carrefour and Amundi-Acba.
Regarding defense, the establishment of a defense mission in the French Embassy in Armenia must enable us to deepen bilateral cooperation in this key area as well.
And finally, in the cultural and educational cooperation we want to rely on the huge success of the French University of Armenia, and we are opening the French Institute in Armenia which will allow to create a rich cultural program, at the same time to offer training courses of French language for all levels. The development of our cooperation in La Francophonie, the areas of science, culture, sports and heritage is also noteworthy, which shows the exclusive dynamics of the relations between France and Armenia, to which I am deeply committed to.
ARMENPRESS: Your Excellency, April 24th of 2023 marked the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. As Foreign Minister of a country which has recognized and condemned the Armenian Genocide, what is your message to the world and especially Turkey so that such crimes against humanity don’t ever happen again?
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna: On April 24th, like every year, we commemorated the victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, which France officially recognized by law on 29 January 2001. This tribute became more solemn since the President of France included it in the list of national commemorative events in 2019.
Commemoration is especially resonant because many French people are descendants of survivors of the genocide whom France took in. However, commemorating the genocide is also a message to humanity for such horrendous events to never happen again in a turbulent period of time, where regrettably conflicts are increasing and many minorities are being threatened.
Regarding Turkey, it is noteworthy that at the initiative of courageous civil society organizations the Armenian Genocide is commemorated there as well, and Turkish academics and historians are working around this topic. We must continue to support the efforts around the world, both by institutional actors and civil society representatives to fight against the denial of the genocide and ponder upon the horrendous lessons of history. Together we can preserve the ability of peoples to live together, which is now endangered.