French defence minister visits Armenia amid Azerbaijan tensions

Feb 22 2024

France's Sebastien Lecornu is due to travel to Armenia on the first trip by a French defence minister to the South Caucasus nation, as tensions rise with Yerevan's historic rival Azerbaijan.

Lecornu's trip comes after French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern about a "risk of escalation" between Armenia and Azerbaijan as he received Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday.

Pashinyan last week warned that Azerbaijan is preparing for a "full-scale war" with Armenia after decades of tensions over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"France and Armenia have a historical relationship of friendship, but the defence relations have not reached the level of the intensity of the bilateral relations," Lecornu's office said.

The minister, who will be accompanied by members of parliament and defence industry representatives, is due to arrive in Yerevan on Thursday evening.

The visit comes amid a growing rift between the Soviet-era master Moscow and Yerevan, which has grown angry with the Kremlin over its perceived inaction on Armenia's long-running confrontation with Azerbaijan.

In October 2023, France announced the sale of defence equipment to Armenia, provoking anger from Azerbaijan. 

The deal was announced weeks after Baku seized the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian separatists.

Lecornu said at the time that Armenia would buy three Ground Master 200 (GM200) radar systems from French defence group Thales.

Armenia has also signed a contract to buy night-vision goggles from the French group Safran, and the French army is also set to train Armenian troops this year.

– 'Policy of militarisation' - 

"Armenia is in a position to defend its territory and population, and defence cooperation with France is strictly in line with the objective of helping it to defend itself," the defence ministry said.

France opened a defence mission in Yerevan in January 2023.

Baku, which is backed militarily by Turkey, has slammed what it called France's policy of "militarisation" in the South Caucasus.

France, home to a large Armenian diaspora, has played a mediating role in the decades-long conflict over control of Karabakh, whose recapture by Azerbaijan led to the exodus of some 100,000 Armenians.

On Wednesday, a stateless Armenian poet who died fighting the Nazi occupation of France during World War II became the first non-French Resistance fighter to enter the Pantheon mausoleum for national heroes.

Yerevan fears that Azerbaijan, which has been emboldened by its capture of the disputed territory, might now seek to target southern Armenia.

Last week both sides accused each other of opening fire on their volatile border in a skirmish that Armenia said left four of its soldiers dead.

After the new spate of tensions Armenia and Azerbaijan's leaders held direct talks on the sidelines of a security gathering in Munich and agreed to push on with peace negotiations.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev then travelled to Turkey where he held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

Azerbaijan has repeatedly hit out at France for criticising Baku's Karabakh offensive last year, and for plans by Paris officials to help arm neighbouring Armenia.

In January, an Azerbaijan parliamentary commission called for the expulsion of French companies from the oil-rich country.

Azerbaijan authorities arrested a Frenchman on espionage charges in December.


Armenpress: Armenian gymnasts Artur Avetisyan, Vahagn Davtyan enter World Cup finals


YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 16, ARMENPRESS. Two Armenian gymnasts have so far made it to the World Cup finals in Cairo, Egypt.

Artur Avetisyan entered the finals with 15,533 points in the Rings exercise. Vahagn Davtyan made it to the finals with an equal amount of points.

Gagik Khachikyan and Harutyun Merdinyan did not qualify for the finals in the Pommel Horse.

Artur Davtyan’s qualifying performance in the Vault is scheduled for February 16.

Iran, Russia urge calm following new Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes

Feb 14 2024
Iran has significant interests at stake in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, having a somewhat tense relationship with the latter.
Adam Lucente

Iran and Russia called for calm on Tuesday after a border skirmish between Armenia and Azerbaijan that left four Armenian soldiers dead, and one Armenian soldier and one Azeri soldier injured. 

Armenian authorities said that Azerbaijani troops fired on Armenian forces across the border in the Syunik region of southeast Armenia on Tuesday. But Azerbaijan said it fired on Armenian forces in retaliation for shelling of Azerbaijani forces on Monday, the Associated Press reported. 

Nasser Kanaani, spokesperson for Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs “called on both sides to exercise restraint and maintain peace."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “We urge both sides to exercise restraint, to avoid in every possible way any actions that the other side might consider provocative,” Russia’s official news agency, TASS, reported.

At the press briefing Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the US was concerned by the renewed violence and offered condolences to the families. Miller said that the US is committed to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations, warned that the use of force undermines those efforts. He added that "any ceasefire violations should be investigated and properly addressed."

Armenia and Azerbaijan have had territorial disputes since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in early 1990s. In 2020, the two countries fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region — an area that was inhabited by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Baku launched a new offensive in September of last year, leading to the mass exodus of Armenians from the area and the dissolution of the local government in January of this year.

Syunik is located just south of Nagorno-Karabakh, and some residents are concerned Azerbaijan may move on the area, Radio Free Europe reported in November.

Why it matters: Iran has concerns about conflict in Syunik. The Islamic Republic fears the possibility of an Azerbaijani incursion in the area, as such an action could threaten Iran’s land border with Armenia, according to a January report from the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Iran has a complex relationship with the conflict. In October, Iran hosted Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats for a dialogue conference aimed at resolving tensions.

Iran has historically enjoyed warm relations with Armenia, but its relationship with Azerbaijan has been tense at times. The following is a breakdown of some notable recent developments in Iran-Azerbaijan relations:

  • A gunman shot and killed a security official at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran in January of last year.
  • Iran slammed the opening of an Israeli embassy in Baku in March.
  • Azerbaijan expelled four Iranian diplomats in April, prompting Iran to make a reciprocal move in May.
  • Iran arrested five ethnic Azeris last week, accusing them of planning sabotage acts on orders from an unspecified entity in Azerbaijan.

Iran and Russia have expressed agreement on the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan recently. At the October conference, both countries denounced Western inference in the conflict, Agence France-Presse reported at the time.

Know more: Iran and Azerbaijan have been working to establish the Aras corridor recently. The corridor would link the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhchivan to the Azerbaijani mainland via Iran. The Islamic Republic has been pushing for the Aras corridor as an alternative to the proposed Zangezur corridor, which would connect Nakhchivan to the rest of Azerbaijan via Armenia. Iran opposes Zangezur, believing it would cut its trade and transit links to Armenia, Rahim Rahimov wrote for Al-Monitor in December.

Kristen Talman in Washington contributed to this report. 


U.S. supports ‘continued dialogue’ between Armenia and Azerbaijan


YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 13, ARMENPRESS. The United States believes that 'continued dialogue' is the best way to reach sustainable settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller has said.

“We do obviously support continued dialogue around that issue. We believe it’s the best way to reach a sustainable end to the conflict, and we will continue to pursue it,” Miller said at a press briefing when asked on the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations process.

Miller declined to comment when asked on the U.S. position on the sides trying to negotiate without mediators.

Despite the ongoing peace efforts, Azerbaijan perpetrated yet another unprovoked attack against Armenia: Azeri forces on February 13 opened cross-border gunfire at an Armenian military position in Syunik province, killing 2 soldiers and wounding others.

Yerevan, Armenia elected to host 10th Francophonie Games in 2027 as the OIF hopes to leave delays behind

Feb 12 2024

Yerevan in Armenia has been named host of the 2027 Francophonie Games, both the Armenian government and the Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) announced last week.

The capital was unanimously elected host of the 10th edition of the event by the 126th extraordinary Session of the Permanent Council of La Francophonie after a campaign was launched last November. The virtual meeting included 88 member states and governments that are French-speaking or former French colonies.

The French-speaking population of Armenia is less than one percent but the nation was admitted to La Francophonie in 2012, activating its eligibility to host the sport and cultural event aimed to promote values among youth in the French language. More than 50 member countries and regions represented by over 4000 athletes are expected to participate in at least nine sports and several cultural activities such as poetry, photography and song.

The OIF and the International Committee of the Francophonie Games (CIJF) have struggled to find hosts for the event that is intended to be held every four years, and a recent string of delays left a six -year gap between the 2017 edition held in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast and the 2023 edition that was staged in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, last August.

The 2021 edition was set to be hosted by New Brunswick’s Dieppe and Moncton (Canada has three member regions; bilingual province New Brunswick, Quebec and the rest of Canada) but skyrocketing costs blamed on flawed budget estimates had provincial government officials walking away from the project in January 2019. In July that year Kinshasa was chosen as the replacement.

The Games were later delayed until 2022 due the the COVID-19 pandemic and a scheduling conflict with the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics held in 2021. Then additional difficulties including construction delays pushed the Games forward a further year until 2023.

Similar problems have plagued other regional multi-sport events. The Commonwealth Games is still desperately searching for a 2026 host after Victoria in Australia backed out due to cost concerns. The Pan American Games is currently considering Asuncion in Paraguay and Lima in Peru as replacement for Barranquilla after the Colombian city had its 2027 hosting rights stripped in January due to missed financial commitments. A new election is scheduled for next month but the winning host will have some catching up to do.

The first Francophonie Games was held in 1989 by Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco followed in 1994 by Paris, France. The Games were intended to be rotated between the North and the South, but recent difficulties have seen that strategy fail.

La Francophonie has already opened up the application process for the 11th edition of the Games scheduled for 2031.

U.S. congressmen introduce Armenian Protection Act


YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 10, ARMENPRESS. A group of United States congressmen have introduced the Armenian Protection Act (H.R.7288) –  a bipartisan bill that will restrict U.S. aid to Azerbaijan by removing the Presidential authority to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Its Senate counterpart (S.3000), spearheaded by Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), was adopted unanimously last year.

Representative Michael Lawler co-authored this legislation with Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and fellow first-term legislator Gabe Amo (D-RI).

If and when adopted and enacted into law, the Lawler-Pallone-Bilirakis-Amo Bill will tighten the existing statute restricting U.S. aid to Azerbaijan – Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act – substantively limiting the authority of the President to waive its full enforcement, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) reported.

Rep. Lawler, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was adamant about the need for clear Biden Administration action to stop bolstering Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian attacks. “Over 100,000 Armenians were targeted, abused, and displaced by the Government of Azerbaijan when they fled Nagorno-Karabakh in recent months,” explained Rep. Lawler. “There is no question of Azerbaijan’s aggression, yet President Biden continues to turn a blind eye.” He continued to note that “It’s simply unacceptable for the U.S. to be funding Azerbaijan’s campaign against the Armenian people. The Armenian Protection Act will put a stop to the Biden Administration’s funding of Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime and desire for regional dominance.”

Rep. Pallone stressed the need for Azerbaijani accountability for the genocide against NK's Armenian population. “President Aliyev broke international law when he ordered his deadly assault of Artsakh last September and still has not faced any meaningful consequences from the international community. World leaders failed to stop his genocidal campaign that has displaced 120,000 Armenians from their historic homeland even though his belligerent rhetoric and troop movements made it clear an attack was imminent,” stated Rep. Pallone. “It’s far past time for the United States and our allies to take serious actions that will prevent even more death and destruction at the hands of Aliyev and provide the safety and security in the region that Armenia needs to thrive as a democracy. The Armenian Protection Act will finally hold the Aliyev regime accountable, halt any further U.S. security assistance until they end their destabilizing actions in the region, and require proof that they can be a trustworthy party in peace negotiations moving forward. I call upon House leadership to take up this commonsense legislation and pass it immediately.”

Rep. Bilirakis stressed the importance of passing the measure. “Given the political and humanitarian crisis that has resulted from Azerbaijan’s recent aggression toward neighboring Armenia, it is unconscionable that U.S. tax dollars are going to support this brutal regime. Those dollars could better be used here at home,” said Rep. Bilirakis.

“We must send a clear message to the Government of Azerbaijan and our partners around the globe that the United States will not stand for unprovoked attacks on the Armenian people,” said Congressman Amo, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “We cannot allow the Government of Azerbaijan to get a free pass for their brutal military aggression and blockades against the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation to show that the United States stands with the people of Armenia and will not accept Azerbaijan’s assault on Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Asbarez: ARF Bureau Chairman Meets with Catholicos Karekin II

Catholicos Karekin II with ARF Bureau chair Hagop Der Khachadourian in Etchmiadzin on Feb. 8

Catholicos Karekin II with ARF Bureau chair Hagop Der Khachadourian in Etchmiadzin on Feb. 8

The chairman of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau, Hagop Der-Khachadourian, on Thursday met with His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians at Etchmiadzin, the ARF Press Service reported.

During the meeting the current situation in Armenia was discussed, as was the Artsakh issue, the protection of the rights of the people of Artsakh, specifically their collective return to their homeland.

Der-Khachadourian and the Catholicos also briefed one another about current and future efforts being undertaken in the homeland and globally to advance the just resolution to the Artsakh issue.

The importance of providing humanitarian assistance to Artsakh Armenians and continuing to strengthen the foundations of Armenia’s statehood were emphasized.

The two leaders also stressed the need to expand cooperations between national institutions and deepening the role of the church in the life of the Armenian people, as a means to advance national unity and confronting challenges.

Hungarian President calls for closer ties with Armenia

Daily News, Hungary
Feb 7 2024

President Katalin Novák, receiving Armenian counterpart Vahagn Khachaturyan in Budapest on Tuesday, said ties between the country should be strengthened and “filled with content”. 

During his first official visit to Hungary, the Armenian president and Novák discussed “issues around peace in the world, Hungary’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Armenia, demographic challenges, bilateral ties, minorities, as well as a European outlook for Armenia,” Novák said.
Diplomatic ties with Armenia were re-established in 2022, and Khachaturyan is the second Armenian president to visit Hungary, Novák noted. At their talks, the two presidents also agreed to launch a cultural cooperation schedule for Hungary and Armenia. 

The agreement signed on behalf of Hungary by Balázs Hankó, the deputy state secretary for higher education, caters to strengthening bilateral relations in higher education, science, technology and culture. 

Regarding the Hungary Helps programme, in which Hungary has donated 40 million forints to Armenian families for medical care, another aspect of the scheme will enable around 1,000 children forced to leave their homes to camp in Hungary. 

The president said the Armenian minority in Hungary, which was awarded government support of 2 billion forints between 2011 and 2023, was strengthening and developing, and the community has expanded by 18 percent since 2011. 

Trade turnover grew eleven-fold to 29 million dollars over the span of 20 years. Hungary also offers 30 Stipendium Hungaricum scholarships to Armenian youth, she noted, adding that Hungary Helps also aids members of persecuted Christian communities. 

Novák pledged its support for Armenia in forging close ties with Europe and advancing visa liberalisation when it takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Meanwhile, asked about Sweden’s NATO accession, Novák said she favoured early ratification and she had asked the Hungarian MPs to vote for it. She said she had spoken yesterday with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson by phone and encouraged him to visit Hungary as soon as possible for talks with herself and the prime minister. 

Regarding the political opposition furore over a presidential pardon given to an official connected with a paedophile, the president said that pedophilia was “disgusting and the most serious crime”. There would be no pardon for paedophiles during her presidency, she said, adding that she had led action against child abusers with the introduction of a register of sex offenders. The justification for the presidential pardon could not be made public for legal reasons, she said. 

Khachaturyan welcomed “a new era in Armenian-Hungarian relations” when the two countries “have an opportunity to restart ties, which may offer huge opportunities.” 

Meanwhile, he said both Russia and Ukraine have large Armenian communities and “they are now fighting each other, which is unacceptable.” The Armenian president thanked Novák for Hungary’s support for ethnic Armenians.

Eurasian Economic Union: Armenian PM calls for compromise in common energy market initiative

 16:26, 2 February 2024

YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 2, ARMENPRESS Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has reiterated his call for a common energy market within the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Speaking at the EEU Intergovernmental Council meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Pashinyan said that a common energy market would give a number of advantages to all member states.

“Although the common gas, oil and petroleum markets are planned to be launched in 2025, it is obvious that at this moment the member states don’t have a clear common approach in terms of the prospects of building and developing a common energy market,” Pashinyan said.

He said that a common energy market would be conducive to economic development, improvement of the welfare of peoples and strengthening of energy security in all EEU countries.  “Taking this into account, we believe that our dialogue must be aimed at seeking compromise agreements.”

Armenpress: US Embassy’s latest security alert loosens compared to previous one

 22:12, 2 February 2024

YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 2, ARMENPRESS. The US Embassy has eased travel restrictions for its employees in the territory of the Republic of Armenia, the Embassy said on social media.

“Notice to U.S. citizens: The U.S. Embassy loosens travel restrictions for its employees. This represents an easing of restrictions since the last notice had been issued,’’ reads the message.

The restrictions apply to Gegharkunik region east of Vardenis, Syunik region east of Goris, Syunik region south of Kapan. The travel through Yeraskh village in Ararat region is allowed, but stopping is not.