Thirty-year-long history of Azerbaijani-French diplomatic relations with ups and downs
By Sabina Mammadli
In 2022, Azerbaijan marks the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations with the subjects of international relations - both individual states and international organizations.
Azernews - the nation's first English language newspaper - launched a new project, designed to cover the major aspects of the 30-year-long diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and individual states.
Transcontinental France comes second with no reasoning behind the order.
On February 21, France and Azerbaijan marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
The relations between the two states have seen ups and downs. On the one hand, France is making attempts to initiate lasting peace in the South Caucasus and planning to focus on opportunities for cooperation such as mine clearance and assistance in identifying missing people. On the other, the country at times expresses overt support for the separatist regime in Karabakh.
Similarly, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s recent remarks that “Paris is ready to make the necessary efforts to support the people of Artsakh within the framework of humanitarian projects” during her meeting with the separatist leader Arayik Harutyunyan in Goris, Armenia, near the Azerbaijani border, are a clear example of France’s real policy.
For the state that claims to be so keen on peace-building and is outspoken about the normalization of ties, French officials’ actions contradict the notions by meeting with a so-called representative of an illegal entity in Azerbaijan.
Unlike Hidalgo, who at least did not break any laws, her colleague - French presidential contender Valerie Pecresse - made the notorious illegal visit to Karabakh in order to gain support among Armenians in France back in December 2021.
Pecresse’s meeting with the representatives of the illegal entity, the so-called 'Nagorno-Karabakh republic’, which is not recognized by any state, including France, violated numerous international obligations.
Pecresse’s voyage is a clear indication that certain French politicians appear to prioritize their own benefits over principles of international law.
As previously reported by Azernews, the deputy director of one of France’s largest magazines, Le Figaro, Jean-Christophe Buisson in his clearly pro-Armenian rhetoric made anti-Azerbaijani claims more than once.
Nevertheless, the French embassy in Azerbaijan is supporting Azerbaijan's mine-clearing operations in Karabakh by procuring detectors and tool kits for deminers. At the same time, France fails to put pressure on Armenia to come to terms with the post-war realities in Karabakh and contribute to the lasting peace.
Over the 30-year-long period of diplomatic relations, the two countries have been able to build strong ties on the basis of partnership in the economic, cultural, and education spheres.
And for the convenience of our readers, we are trying to shed light on specific aspects of the relations in a Q&A format.
Q: When did Azerbaijan and France establish diplomatic relations? What do we know about the history of the ties?
A: The French government recognized Azerbaijan's independence 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 Turkey's 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 are the common points between the two states regarding the territorial integrity issue?
A: Guided by the norms and principles of international law, France officially supports Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
However, having said the factors, we should also add that during the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, French President Emmanuel Macron and some French circles failed to remain neutral though France is a co-chair in the OSCE Minsk Group that was designed to bring about a solution to the conflict between Baku and Yerevan through peaceful means.
In contradiction to the mandate of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair, 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 stance was several times criticized by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and some other senior officials.
Q: What is the current state and spheres of economic cooperation between the two countries?
A: The Azerbaijan-French Economic Commission was established in 1997.
Around 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 over 200 representatives of various companies and government officials on May 12, 2014.
Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF International) is an example of close ties between the two countries. The company, which has been cooperating with Azerbaijan since 1992, is a non-profit organization that represents the private sector of France at the international level and includes about 7,100 companies. The organization's main goal is to promote the best practices of French companies around the world. Some 65 French companies operate in various sectors of the Azerbaijani economy, including industry, energy, trade, services, agriculture, and others.
French TOTAL company holds 50-percent-share in the project to develop Azerbaijan's Absheron gas condensate field. TOTAL and State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) signed a relevant agreement in 2016 for a period of 30 years. SOCAR holds another 5 percent of 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).
Besides, the French Development Agency carries out projects in the field of infrastructure and communications.
So far Azerbaijan invested over $2.1 billion in the French economy, whereas over 42.2 billion was invested by France in the Azerbaijani economy.
France's main exports are electrical equipment, ferrous metals, and products made from them, chemical products, medicines, gas meters, plastics, furniture, dairy products, live plants, buses, etc.
The basis of Azerbaijan's export is crude oil, methanol, walnuts, plastic bags and bags, fruit juice, etc.
The 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: Internationally, France and Azerbaijan cooperate within the framework of various international organizations such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and others.
France has been one of the co-chair states of the OSCE Minsk Group since its establishment in an effort to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict but to no avail.
The ties between the countries in the education sector are exemplary, which can be seen by such successes as the French-Azerbaijani University and the French Lyceum 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 considers a master's program with the Azerbaijan Tourism and Management University (ATMU). The program is supposed to facilitate the growth of Azerbaijan's tourism sector, the prosperity of the local community, the development of adventure tourism, as well as the overall economic advancement.
An agreement on friendship and cooperation was signed between 12 cities of Azerbaijan and 10 cities and 1 province of France. Moreover, 300 schools in Azerbaijan teach French.
Talking about the cultural aspect of the ties, it should be noted that the countries share a tight 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 53,776 US dollars for the restoration of three stained-glass windows of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg.
On July 4, 2013, at the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the project "Days of Azerbaijani culture" was launched in France’s Cannes, which lasted until July 7. On July 6, an evening of classical music was held as part of the project of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation to preserve and promote Azerbaijani culture in the world. On July 7, a demonstration of Azerbaijani cinema – the film "Arshin Mal Alan" was presented.
In the following years, the Days of Culture of Azerbaijan were also held in Cannes with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
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