Thirty years of history of Franco-Azerbaijani diplomatic relations with ups and downs

By Sabina Mammadli

In 2022, Azerbaijan marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with subjects of international relations – both individual states and international organizations.

Azernews – the country’s first English-language newspaper – has launched a new project, designed to cover major aspects of Azerbaijan’s 30-year diplomatic relations with individual states.

Transcontinental France comes second with no motivation behind the order.

On February 21, France and Azerbaijan celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Relations between the two states have had their ups and downs. On the one hand, France is trying to establish a lasting peace in the South Caucasus and plans to focus on cooperation opportunities such as demining and helping to identify missing persons. On the other hand, the country sometimes expresses overt support for the separatist Karabakh regime.

Similarly, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s recent remarks that “Paris is ready to make the necessary efforts to support the people of Artsakh through humanitarian projects” during her meeting with separatist leader Arayik Harutyunyan in Goris , in Armenia, near the Azerbaijani border, are a clear example of the true policy of France.

For the state that claims to be so committed to peacebuilding and openly talks about normalizing ties, the actions of French officials contradict ideas in meeting with a so-called representative of an illegal entity in Azerbaijan.

Unlike Hidalgo, who at least did not break any laws, his colleague – French presidential candidate Valérie Pecresse – made the notorious illegal visit to Karabakh in order to win the support of Armenians in France in December 2021.

Pecresse’s meeting with the representatives of the illegal entity, the so-called “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh”, which is not recognized by any state, including France, violated numerous international obligations.

Pecresse’s trip is a clear indication that some French politicians seem to prioritize their own advantages over the principles of international law.

As previously reported by Azernews, the deputy director of one of the largest French magazines, Le Figaro, Jean-Christophe Buisson in his clearly pro-Armenian rhetoric has made anti-Azeri claims more than once.

Nevertheless, the French Embassy in Azerbaijan supports Azerbaijan’s demining operations in Karabakh by purchasing detectors and toolkits for deminers. At the same time, France fails to pressure Armenia to accept the post-war realities in Karabakh and contribute to a lasting peace.

During the 30 years of diplomatic relations, the two countries have been able to forge solid ties on the basis of a partnership in the economic, cultural and educational fields.

And for the convenience of our readers, we try to shed light on specific aspects of relationships in the form of questions and answers.

Q: When did Azerbaijan and France establish diplomatic relations? What do we know about the history of links?

A: The French government recognized the independence of Azerbaijan in January 1992. Diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and France were established on February 21, 1992. Notably, French Ambassador to Azerbaijan Jean Perrin was the second accredited diplomat after the Turkish Altan Karamanoglu. Azerbaijan opened its embassy in Paris on November 20, 1994. France has also had a representative office in Baku since February 1992.

Q: What do the two states have in common regarding the issue of territorial integrity?

A: Guided by the norms and principles of international law, France officially supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

However, having said the factors, it must also be added that during the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, French President Emmanuel Macron and some French circles failed to remain neutral although France was co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group which was designed to find a solution to the conflict between Baku and Yerevan by peaceful means.

Contrary to the mandate of the Co-Chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, only the interests of Armenia were protected and an inadequate position, which did not meet the requirements of a balanced and fair co-chairmanship, was displayed. This position has been repeatedly criticized by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and other senior officials.

Q: What is the current status and areas of economic cooperation between the two countries?

A: The Franco-Azerbaijani Economic Commission was established in 1997.

About 65 French companies, representing various sectors of the economy, operate in Azerbaijan and participate as contractors in a number of infrastructure projects.

A joint Azerbaijani-French business forum was held in Baku with the participation of more than 200 representatives of various companies and government officials on May 12, 2014.

The Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF International) is an example of the close ties between the two countries. The company, which has been cooperating with Azerbaijan since 1992, is a non-profit organization that represents France’s private sector internationally and includes around 7,100 companies. The main objective of the organization is to promote the best practices of French companies in the world. Some 65 French companies operate in various sectors of the Azerbaijani economy, including industry, energy, trade, services, agriculture, etc.

The French company TOTAL holds a 50% share in the Absheron gas condensate field development project in Azerbaijan. TOTAL and State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) signed a 30-year agreement in 2016. SOCAR still holds 5% of the shares.

The field is being developed by JOCAP (Joint Operating Company of Absheron Petroleum), a joint venture between SOCAR and Total. The drilling was carried out by SOCAR’s CDC (Caspian Drilling Company).

In addition, the French Development Agency carries out projects in the field of infrastructure and communications.

So far, Azerbaijan has invested more than $2.1 billion in the French economy, while more than $42.2 billion has been invested by France in the Azerbaijani economy.

France’s main exports are electrical equipment, ferrous metals and their derivatives, chemicals, medicines, gas meters, plastics, furniture, dairy products, live plants, buses, etc.

Azerbaijan’s export base is crude oil, methanol, nuts, plastic bags and pouches, fruit juices, etc.

Azerbaijani-French trade turnover amounted to $245.4 million in 2021.

Q: How do the two countries cooperate in international, cultural and other spheres?

A: At the international level, France and Azerbaijan cooperate within the framework of various international organizations such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE, etc.

France has been one of the co-chairing states of the OSCE Minsk Group since its creation with the aim of finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, but to no avail.

The links between the countries in the field of education are exemplary, as evidenced by success stories such as the Franco-Azerbaijani University and the French Lycée in Baku. These institutions are considered the basis of friendship between France and Azerbaijan.

As the French Ambassador to Azerbaijan said, France is promoting new education projects in Azerbaijan. He noted that France is considering a master’s program with the Azerbaijan University of Tourism and Management (ATMU). The program is expected to facilitate the growth of Azerbaijan’s tourism sector, the prosperity of the local community, the development of adventure tourism, as well as overall economic progress.

A friendship and cooperation agreement was signed between 12 cities of Azerbaijan and 10 cities and 1 province of France. In addition, 300 schools in Azerbaijan teach French.

Speaking of the cultural aspect of the ties, it should be noted that the countries share a close exchange of cultural heritage.

In this regard, in 2007, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation allocated funds for the restoration of the interior of the Palace of Versailles. In 2009, the foundation donated US$53,776 for the restoration of three stained glass windows in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg.

On July 4, 2013, on the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the project “Days of Azerbaijani Culture” was launched in Cannes, France, which lasted until July 7. On July 6, an evening of classical music was held as part of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation project to preserve and promote Azerbaijani culture to the world. On July 7, a demonstration of Azerbaijani cinema – the film “Arshin Mal Alan” was shown.

In the following years, Azerbaijan Culture Days were also held in Cannes with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

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