France to arm Armenia, foreign ministers confirm

By Mark Dovich

France plans to sell weapons to Armenia, the two countries’ foreign ministers confirmed Tuesday.

“France has given its consent to the conclusion of future contracts with Armenia that will allow for the delivery of military equipment to Armenia so that it can ensure its defense,” France’s Catherine Colonna said at a press conference in Yerevan alongside Armenia’s Ararat Mirzoyan.

The exact type of arms that will be supplied was not immediately clear, nor was the timeline for the deliveries.

Mirzoyan declined to answer reporters’ questions to that effect, saying only, “We are talking about supporting Armenia’s defense capabilities. We cannot comment further.”

Colonna also said Paris is pushing Brussels to bolster its monitoring mission along the Armenian side of the border with Azerbaijan, adding she had personally been in contact with Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, on the matter.

In February the EU deployed roughly 100 unarmed civilian monitors to patrol sections of the undelimited Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The mission has an initial mandate of two years.

In addition, France is working to add Armenia to a EU funding instrument that provides military support to non-member countries, including Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

“I have proposed to include Armenia in the European Peace Facility,” Colonna told reporters.

Alen Simonyan, Armenia’s parliamentary speaker, said in July Brussels had previously turned down Yerevan’s request for technical assistance through that fund.

Turning to the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, Colonna said France, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is working on a “draft resolution to guarantee a permanent international presence in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The powerful Security Council convened at France’s request just days after Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh last month, but failed to immediately issue a binding resolution on the issue.

Over the weekend, a temporary UN needs assessment mission arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh, marking the first time in about three decades the organization has had access to the region.

Read more: UN arrives in Karabakh — but what’s the point?

What’s the context?

Since Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh and subsequent seizure of the region last month, France has emerged as one of the strongest voices supporting Armenia on the international stage.

“We’re hearing statements that people voluntarily left their homes” in Nagorno-Karabakh, Colonna said Tuesday. “This is not the case.”

“I don’t want to legally define a crime, but I’m saying that (what happened) was a crime,” she added, marking some of the most forceful language so far from a prominent international actor on the mass exodus of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians from their homes.

Last week, more than 100,000 people — almost all of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population — fled to Armenia, rapidly becoming one of the worst refugee crises in the South Caucasus in recent memory.

Most of the people forcibly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh traveled to Armenia in their own vehicles, many of them only with whatever belongings they could wear on their backs or fit in their cars. Almost all of them were malnourished after living under near-total blockade for more than nine months.

What’s more, the news of Paris’ weapons sales to Yerevan comes as Armenia’s ties with Russia, its traditional arms supplier, continue to fray.

Also on Tuesday, Armenia’s parliament voted to join the International Criminal Court, a move that the Kremlin had warned against repeatedly and in unusually strong language. Before the vote, Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the TASS news agency that “ratifying the Rome Statute will have the most negative consequences for bilateral relations.”

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, meaning Armenia may now be expected to detain Putin and send him to the Hague if he visits the country.