“Where you see destruction, death, robbery and violence, you know the Turks passed there,” said great Frenchman, novelist and poet Victor Hugo.
Aware of the Armenian nation’s past and present sufferings, French President Emmanuel Macron seems to be valuing Hugo’s words and this nation’s history, impact and cultural heritage. Macron and his predecessors never failed to show support to the Armenian community inside France, as well as for Armenia. This has been the case throughout the history of friendship between the two countries.
Last week, the French Senate adopted a resolution calling for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as a republic, with 305 votes in favour and one against. Ankara rejected the resolution. “It shows how biased France is towards the dispute, and is devoid of any reality. It shows how basic principles of international law, legitimacy and rightfulness can be ignored for the sake of internal affairs considerations,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
“Turkey wants to create its pan-Turkish empire and wants to dominate the Arab world without being part of it,” prominent French-Armenian activist Mourad Papazian, president of the Paris-based Media School, told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that Erdogan is presenting himself as the leader of the Muslim world to dominate Muslims. “The Turkish leader wants to create an opposition feeling against France in the Islamic world. He is also creating an atmosphere of rejection towards France at the UN,” Papazian said. Erdogan, the activist thinks, is a danger to the world and to Islam, too.
The French resolution calls on the government to pursue a tougher European response towards Turkey that has supported Azerbaijan in its recent war that lasted six weeks.
Azerbaijan, too, criticised France for supporting Armenia. Its Foreign Ministry stated that the resolution is “provocative” and that it was put forward by a group of pro-Armenian senators and that French-Armenians used the Karabakh conflict for election purposes.
The Azerbaijani parliament urged its government to review its ties with Paris, and called on France to stop its mediating role in the Karabakh conflict. Its MPs adopted a resolution calling for France to be expelled from the OSCE Minsk Group.
“Azerbaijan and Turkey do not accept the position of French parliamentarians in favour of the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. But France is the land of enlightenment, democracy and freedoms. France cannot support dictatorships against the just demands of the Armenians. Azerbaijan and Turkey can step up their pressure to put France out of the game, but they will fail,” Papazian commented.
France, along with Russia and the US, is the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group of countries that for three decades have sought solutions to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian populated region given to Azerbaijan by Joseph Stalin in 1921, and was liberated from Baku in another war in the 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed.
Later, the French Foreign Ministry reconsidered its position, stating that the recognition of Karabakh by the Senate did not reflect French policy. Some French analysts suggested that France should withdraw from its role as a co-chair of the Minsk Group.
As soon as the unfavourable agreement was signed almost three weeks ago between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia to end the war, French President Emmanuel Macron said “France stands by Armenia during this difficult time.” Macron also urged Turkey “to end its provocations”, while French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated, “we consider it important that Turkey absolutely strictly adhere to the agreed ceasefire, because otherwise it risks facing increased sanctions.”
Two cargo planes carrying humanitarian aid for Armenians suffering as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh war arrived in the capital Yerevan during the past week.
According to a statement from the French Foreign Ministry, the planes carried emergency medical equipment, including a mobile unit capable of treating 500 people, blankets and hygiene kits. On board of the second cargo plane was former French-Armenian footballer Youri Djorcaeff.
“This humanitarian aid is obviously what we should do for the 120,000 displaced people from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven restored provinces,” Macron explained, “and for the million Armenians who are currently living in unbearable conditions… under-nourished and in great poverty.”
According to the ministry, France is introducing a structural system of aid to the population affected by the war through a crisis support committee especially created for the purpose.
In early October, while the brutal fight was still at its peak, Macron accused Turkey of sending hundreds of mercenaries and jihadists to help Azerbaijan in its war against Armenia. “Turkey has crossed the red line, that’s unacceptable,” the French president said at that time.
Relations between France and Turkey have deteriorated sharply in recent months and may be years. In 2019, President Macron made 24 April a national day of commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, something that annoyed Erdogan. “Macron is turning historic events to political material; he is using the Armenian issue to deflect attention,” said the president’s spokesman, referring to the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests at the time.
France’s former presidents have all had positive political attitudes towards Armenians. “France has a long historical relationship with Armenia and its people. It’s a great friendship. The contribution of French people of Armenian origin is also greatly appreciated inside France. We are a model of integration and we respect the principles of the French Republic. As Charles Aznavour said once, we are 100 per cent French and 100 per cent Armenian,” said Papazian, who is also the co-president of the Coordination Committee of Armenian Organisations in France (CCAF).
“And because of that, France continuously supports us whenever we need, as it always stands on the side of justice and truth,” he added.
During the 1915 massacres, the French welcomed tens of thousands of Armenians into their country as a safe haven. France was also one of the few countries to send rescue warships for Armenians after a heroic 53-day battle of self-defence known as “Musa Ler” (Mount Musa), a mountain in today’s Hatay Province of Turkey. They were taken to Egypt’s Port Said.
The French Armenian community is the largest in the European Union, exceeding 500,000. Also, France was the first European country, who in 2001, officially recognised the genocide perpetuated by the Ottoman Turks.
Many Armenian writers, poets, painters and musicians have worked and died in France. Both French and Armenians are proud of the likes of Charles Aznavour, Henri Verneuil, Marc Aryan, Sylvie Vartan, Youri Djorkaeff, Michel Legrand, Andre Manoukian and other prominent figures in the French Resistance, like Patrick Devedjian, Missak Manouchian and Louise Aslanian. Dying in Paris, 1935, was founder of the Armenian national school of music, priest, composer, singer and choirmaster, Komitas, whose ashes and manuscripts were transferred to Armenia after his death.
“The security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and in Armenia, too, is a real concern to France. In the six-week war, Azerbaijan has been seen using white phosphorus weapons and cluster munitions. It’s horrible. The world must open its eyes. Armenians need international support,” Papazian concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly