Azerbaijan has launched a media campaign against France, accusing it of bias and interference in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The campaign follows a series of statements and actions by France that have angered Baku and deepened the rift between the two countries.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a decades-long dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the mountainous region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. The conflict flared up again in September 2020, resulting in a six-week war that ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement that restored most of the lost territories to Azerbaijan.
France, which is a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group that mediates the conflict, has been criticized by Azerbaijan for allegedly siding with Armenia and undermining the peace process. France has a large Armenian diaspora that exerts political pressure on Paris to support Yerevan.
The tensions between Azerbaijan and France escalated after French President Emmanuel Macron gave an interview to Le Figaro on October 8, 2020, in which he called the war “a terrible war” and said that Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in the conflict, had sent Syrian mercenaries to fight there. He also said that France was ready to host talks between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to find a lasting solution to the conflict.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev reacted angrily to Macron’s interview, saying that France had lost its credibility as a mediator and demanded an apology from Paris. He also accused France of supplying weapons to Armenia during the war, which France denied.
Azerbaijan’s parliament also passed a resolution on October 12, 2020, calling for France to be stripped of its mediation role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The resolution said that France had violated its obligations as a co-chair of the Minsk Group and had shown “open support” for Armenia’s “aggression” against Azerbaijan.
The situation worsened after France’s Senate adopted a resolution on November 18, 2020, calling for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent republic. Azerbaijan denounced the resolution as a “provocation” and a “violation of international law”.
Azerbaijan also recalled its ambassador to Paris for consultations and summoned the French ambassador to Baku to express its protest.
France’s Foreign Ministry said the resolution was “non-binding” and did not reflect the official stance of the French government. France also reiterated its commitment to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and its role as a co-chair of the Minsk Group.
However, Azerbaijan was not satisfied with France’s response and continued its media offensive against France. Azerbaijani media outlets have extensively covered anything negative that happens in or because of France, such as protests, riots, terrorist attacks, human rights violations, corruption scandals, etc.
Azerbaijani media has also portrayed France as a colonialist power that oppresses and exploits its overseas territories and former colonies. On July 6, 2021, an Azerbaijani think tank organized a conference in Baku titled “Towards the Complete Elimination of Colonialism”, where officials and activists from various French territories accused France of neocolonialism and demanded their independence.
A day earlier, Aliyev delivered a speech in which he lambasted France’s “outrageous neocolonialism policy” in those territories, including Corsica and Mayotte, and in Algeria. He also compared Nagorno-Karabakh to those territories and said that Azerbaijan had liberated its lands from Armenian occupation.
Azerbaijani media has also targeted Macron personally, calling him names such as “liar”, “hypocrite”, “fascist”, etc. A public television program even enlisted a group of Azerbaijani children to sing a song insulting Macron. The song mocked Macron’s height, appearance, intelligence, and policies.
The media war between Azerbaijan and France shows no sign of abating as both sides maintain their positions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. While France has called for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict that would address the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the return of refugees and displaced persons, Azerbaijan has insisted on its sovereignty over the region and rejected any concessions to Armenia.