French presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse this week made an illegal visit to parts of the Azerbaijani region of Karabakh, which are temporarily controlled by Russian peacekeepers. The president of the group The Republicans in the French Senate, Bruno Retailleau, and the chief negotiator of the European Commission for Brexit, Michel Barnier, would have accompanied the presidential candidate during the one-day trip to the city of Khankendi.
According to France Télévisions journalist Julien Nény, the visit took place on the sly for what would have been “security reasons”.
“Valérie Pécresse visited Nagorno-Karabakh [the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan] today. She met local politicians there. [A] trip which, for security reasons, could not be covered by the majority of the French media present in Armenia, including France TV ”, Nény wrote in a Message on Twitter translated from French Wednesday.
Pécresse’s illicit visit to the Karabakh region took place as part of his trip to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, which is said to be aimed at attracting the vote of the Armenian electorate to France in the upcoming elections. In Khankendi, she met Arayik Harutunyan, the so-called leader of the remnants of Armenian criminal gangs in parts of the Karabakh region, who is wanted by Interpol as a war criminal at the request of the Azerbaijani government. Pécresse’s illegal visit also included a trip to the cemetery of Armenian militants killed in last year’s war with Azerbaijan, according to media reports.
The Azerbaijani government called Pécresse’s visit to the Karabakh region flagrant violation of the national legislation of the country against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The Foreign Ministry submitted a protest note to France’s charge d’affaires in Azerbaijan. Pécresse and those accompanying him to the Karabakh region were included in the list of persons declared persona non grata in Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani region of Karabakh (Garabakh) fell under Armenian occupation in the early 1990s during a bloody war that lasted until a ceasefire agreement was reached in 1994. As a result, , Armenia has occupied 20% of internationally recognized Azerbaijani territories. More than 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis have been killed and a million have been evicted from these lands as part of Armenia’s brutal ethnic cleansing policy. Although the United Nations Security Council has adopted four resolutions in 1993, demanding the immediate withdrawal of occupation forces from Azerbaijani lands and the return of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons to their ancestral lands, Armenia failed to comply with the four legally binding documents.
On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries escalated after Armenian forces deployed on occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements in Azerbaijan. During the 44-day counterattack operations, Azerbaijani forces liberated more than 300 settlements, including the towns of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli and Shusha, from nearly 30 years of illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended with a tripartite declaration signed on November 10, 2020 by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. According to the declaration, Armenia also returned to Azerbaijan the occupied districts of Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin.
The tripartite declaration also mandated a temporary five-year service of a Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Armenian-inhabited part of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.
During the years of Armenian occupation of the Karabakh region, France was one of three countries to chair the OSCE Minsk Group, a mediation structure tasked with finding a peaceful end to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The Group’s diplomatic shuttle did not keep its commitments, moreover, the French authorities openly supported Armenia in the 44-day war with President Emmanuel Macron expressing solidarity with Armenia.
The illegal visit of presidential candidate Pécresse, known for her racist anti-Muslim rhetoric, to the Karabakh region foreshadows a stronger pro-Armenian position in Paris should the April 2022 elections win. Remarks Wednesday in Yerevan, Pécresse openly muddied the waters around the current situation in the Karabakh region, calling it an “ongoing conflict” although Baku called it over and irreversible.