Azerbaijan calls for Kanaky, Maohi Nui, and Corsica independence: what is necessary to know.

  • Council on Pacific Affairs Exclusive – 22 JANUARY 2024 – Dr. Nikolay N. Goryachev, CPA

On January 18, 2024, the Azerbaijan’s Milli Majlis (Parliament) adopted a resolution that has a huge impact on bilateral relations with France. Milli Majlis has asked the government to recognize the independence of Kanaky, Maohi Nui, and Corsica. It was reflected in the statement adopted by the International Relations and Interparliamentary Relations Committee of the Milli Majlis regarding the resolution of the French Senate, APA reports. The Committee has called on the Government of Azerbaijan to instruct the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take steps in the direction of recognizing the independence of Kanaky, Maohi Nui, and Corsica considering the anti-Azerbaijan activities of France. Also, this call was made in response to the anti-Azerbaijani resolution of the French Senate “on the imposition of sanctions against Baku,” follows from a statement published on the website of the Azerbaijani parliament.

         This is not a simple foreign policy demarche. We can say that this is part of a complex geopolitical problem. However, this problem was provoked mostly not by Azerbaijan, but by its neighboring country Armenia. To make this issue clear, it is necessary to do a very brief outline of recent history – since the Soviet Union collapse to 1990-2000s.

         The process of USSR disintegration began in the second half of the 1980s during perestroika, when General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991) initiated reforms aimed at economic acceleration, transparency and democratization of state and socio-political life. It was an attempt to end the previous «Era of Stagnation». However, the Soviet Union still had experienced internal stagnation and ethnic separatism. Although highly centralized until its final years, USSR was made up of 15 top-level republics that served as homelands for different ethnicities. Instability in the national republics, which were parts of USSR, was growing and developing into an incessant political and legislative conflict between them and the central government. As a result, the national republics began to declare independence one after another. But that has not reduced ethnic tensions.

         These historical conditions led to the emergence of a direct armed conflict based on ethnic and territorial contradictions. The First Nagorno-Karabakh War took place from February 1988 in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan, between the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan with support from Turkey. As the war progressed, Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet republics, entangled themselves in protracted, undeclared mountain warfare in the mountainous heights of Karabakh as Azerbaijan attempted to curb the secessionist movement in Nagorno-Karabakh. The war ended in 1994 with the Bishkek Protocol. It was a provisional ceasefire agreement, signed by the representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), and Russia on May 5, 1994, in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. It is also important that Armenia, which fought for Karabakh, did not recognize the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Not a month, not a year, not 30 years after the start of the First Karabakh War. The conflict entered a frozen state. After the war, relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan remained very tense. Sometimes there were sporadic armed clashes between the countries in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the policy towards each other was also not friendly.  

         The period of the 1990s was quite difficult in the political sense for all republics of the former USSR (including Russia). As a rule, the stability of the particular state development largely depended on the continuity of the political course. Azerbaijan managed to ensure domestic political stability fairly quickly despite losing the Karabakh war. Continuity was achieved thanks to the consistent management of Heydar Aliyev (1993-2003: two presidential terms), and then his son Ilham Aliyev (2003-present: four presidential terms).

In Armenia, political power shifts occurred quite often. The intention of the Armenian authorities was that the non-recognition of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) allows them to receive various preferences from the United States, European countries, and Israel, and at the same time the country remains within the framework of international law. However, at the same time, Armenian authorities do not forget to remain a strategic ally of Russia, receiving energy resources, protection in the form of the presence of a military base in Gyumri and all sorts of financial concessions. And at the same time, the survival of the unrecognized NKR was ensured by the hands of the allies. All of that preserved the possibilities for unrest the domestic and foreign policy. And it has borne fruit.

         In 2018, a “velvet revolution” took place in Armenia. As a result, Nikol Pashinyan became Prime Minister of the country. And the country’s politics began to change. Pashinyan began to try to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy. In other words – play both sides of the fence. Armenia has very close ties with Russia, primarily economically. After coming to power, Pashinyan could not understand for a long time which camp it was better for him to join: whether it was further pro-Russian orientation, or to turn his attention to the West. And against the background of growing tensions in relations with Azerbaijan, the Armenian authorities have become more active in pursuing a policy of deepening cooperation with the EU and NATO. Perhaps these steps were taken in order to put pressure on Russia, pressure to get some more favorable conditions for cooperation.

Map of Armenia and Azerbaijan showing the areas controlled by each country during the Soviet era, after the 1994 conflict and after the war in 2020. – AFP / AFP / VALENTIN RAKOVSKY

When the Second Karabakh War began in 2020, the Armenian authorities most likely hoped that the CSTO (The Collective Security Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia consisting of six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, formed in 2002) would intervene in the conflict. And thus, Armenia will win without any problems. However, this did not happen. Because since the fighting was conducted on the territory of the unrecognized state Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), which means there was no attack on the territory of Armenia. Legally, Nagorno-Karabakh has remained the territory of Azerbaijan all this time! This means that Armenia could not count on assistance from the CSTO. Armenia lost the war. Moreover, in October 2023, Pashinyan officially recognized that the territory of Azerbaijan is 86.600 km2 – and therefore includes Nagorno-Karabakh. After that, Armenia’s policy began to show the final signs of imbalance. Pashinyan has blamed Russia for his problems again and again, then declared that now Armenia will turn towards Europe. Meanwhile, Moscow has never insisted that Armenia cannot choose its friends. At the same time, European countries welcomed Pashinyan’s similar statements, each time emphasizing that this is the triumph of democracy.

But Azerbaijan, despite the resolution of the Karabakh issue, seemed to be very unhappy with Europe, and mainly with France. For the first time, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressed his dissatisfaction with the French policy in Baku in October 2023 during the international conference “Neocolonialism: Violation of Human Rights and Injustice”. In his address to the participants, the Azerbaijani president blamed France for geopolitical intrigues and abuse of a permanent seat in the UN Security Council; crimes against humanity; the murder of 1.5 million Algerians; theft of wealth from third world countries; conducting 200 nuclear tests in French Polynesia, 17 in Algeria; racism and Islamophobia in modern France.

These words can be explained not so much by the fact that France remains a colonial power, but by the policy that France pursues towards Azerbaijan. According to various estimates, app. 350.000 – 500.000 Armenians live in France. The Armenian Diaspora has constantly worked to ensure that Paris protects Armenia’s interests on international platforms. France has the right of veto and initiatives in the UN Security Council, and until recently it was listed as a permanent member of the OSCE Minsk Group along with Russia and the United States.

Before the Second Karabakh War, the French had practically nothing to do in the interests of Armenia. After all, Armenia was the victorious country. Karabakh and seven surrounding areas were controlled by Armenians. But when Aliyev launched an operation against Karabakh, Paris sided with the Armenians. At the UN Security Council, the French representative insisted on a ceasefire. However, the relevant resolution was blocked by the United Kingdom, with which Azerbaijan has a special relationship due to the participation of British oil companies (BP) in the development of Caspian fields and the transportation of hydrocarbons through Turkey to Europe (TANAP).

In the OSCE format, France also tried to call for ceasefire. On October 5, together with the United States and Russia, France was able to agree on a corresponding statement. However, the actions of Paris did not yield results. Probably the most insulting thing for French President E. Macron was that in the ceasefire came without the participation of France.  The final peace was established by Russia in coordination with Turkey. In parallel, Russia and Turkey have established a monitoring center on the situation in Karabakh in Aghdam. There is no France there, but there are two leaders with whom Macron has far from friendly relations – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin.

On November 25, 2020, immediately after the Second Karabakh War, the French Senate recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. Macron disavowed this initiative, but it was remembered in Baku. Also, Macron organized a meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan in Prague in the autumn 2022. Erdogan was also invited there. Along the way, Macron tried to push Russia aside, accusing it of escalating the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Aliyev did not appreciate this. Moreover, in further negotiations with Pashinyan, he set a condition that Macron should not be present at them.

French politicians continued to displease Baku by the trips of the French presidential candidates to Armenia and Karabakh. In particular, the head of the Ile-de-France province, Valerie Pecresse, accompanied by Senator Bruno Retailleau and former French Foreign Minister, former European Commissioner Michel Barnier. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo went to Armenia and participated in sending humanitarian supplies to Karabakh. She called the restriction of entry by Azerbaijani border guards “genocide.”

These are just some of the actions of representatives of the French authorities, which can be called anti-Azerbaijani. However, it should be noted that the increasing support for Armenia from the French authorities is most likely caused by the increasing number of Pashinyan’s anti-Russian aspirations and Armenia’s accelerated drift towards the EU.

And returning to the statement of the Azerbaijani parliament, it should be noted that in addition to the issues of recognizing the independence of Kanaky, Maohi Nui and Corsica (only three of the 13 territories), there are five other points:

1. Sanctions to be imposed on France.

2. Any asset(s) owned by French officials found in Azerbaijan to be frozen.

3. All economic relations with France to be suspended.

4. All the French companies including TotalEnergies to be removed from Azerbaijan.

5. French companies to be prevented from taking part in any project implemented at the request of the Azerbaijani State. 

So if the recognition of independence is a rather complicated and complex question, then Azerbaijan can apply economic steps much faster. And if such actions follow, it will indicate the seriousness of Azerbaijan’s intentions. In conclusion, we can assume that anti-colonial rhetoric is gradually gaining popularity around the world. An increasing number of countries declare the need to abandon the colonial legacy and neo-colonial policies. In all likelihood, the rejection process has already begun in a certain sense, and unless something out of the ordinary happens, there will be more and more statements like the Azerbaijani one in the future.