Azerbaijan’s hybrid war against France comes to New Caledonia

In recent days, the French government and media have denounced Azerbaijan’s interference that has aggravated the tense climate in New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the Pacific. Why and by what means is Baku waging a hybrid war against Paris?

By Tigran Yegavian

Baku sits 13,800 kilometers from Nouméa. And there is no indication that this small regional power in the Caucasus, certainly rich in gas and oil, has any interests to defend in Melanesia and distant Oceania. Apart from the flags, whose side bands are curiously the same color, Azerbaijan and New Caledonia have few things in common. In the nationalist demonstrations that have swept the island this week, we could see many indigenous Kanak activists wearing T-shirts bearing the logo of the the Baku Initiative Group, founded last July on the sidelines of a summit of non-aligned countries, as well as the Azerbaijani flag itself or the effigy of the dictator Ilham Aliyev with his fist raised, the same person who once uttered that he was going to “hunt the Armenians like dogs”. The Baku Initiative Group Instagram account has around 5,000 followers. It works to relay the messages of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front and to stir up anti-French resentment. This same account does the same for Guyana and French Polynesia, Guadeloupe or Corsica. Without forgetting the “posts” on the dark pages of France’s colonial past, without concern for historical truth, in Algeria and elsewhere in Africa. The Baku Initiative Group also organizes online conferences with overseas separatists and covers the travel costs of their representatives who travel to Baku. Last April, a memorandum of cooperation was signed between the Congress of New Caledonia and the National Assembly of Azerbaijan, sparking protests in loyalist ranks. The apparent objective of the Baku parliament? To raise awareness in the international community about the right of the people of New Caledonia to self-determination.

A retaliatory measure against Paris

Nothing has gone well between Paris and Baku since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and the effective dissolution of the OSCE Minsk Group. Until then, France, in its capacity as co-chair, was bound by absolute neutrality. Since November 2020, French-Azerbaijani relations have deteriorated considerably, as Paris has increased its political, diplomatic, and military support for Yerevan. That has all been enough to arouse the ire of the Aliyev regime, which has since launched a hybrid war against France. Paris justifies its support for Armenia’s defense with reference to Azerbaijan’s occupation of nearly 200 square kilometers of Armenia’s sovereign territory. In Baku, we cry hypocrisy because Paris has never denounced the four United Nations resolutions that it had voted for in 1993 supporting Azerbaijani sovereignty over all the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and the seven surrounding districts. During a conference organized by this same group in Baku last November, Aliyev himself even gave a speech with strong anti-colonial overtones, during which he referred to France more than 20 times.Azerbaijan has been creative in increasing the resonance of these independence demands. On X, formerly Twitter, they are relayed by anonymous Azerbaijanis and more influential figures, such as the director of the AIR Center think tank, Farid Shafiyev. Since last October, the Azerbaijani parliament has even hosted a group supporting the Corsican people and published a press release at the beginning of February to denounce “the Macronist dictatorship.” Azerbaijan was also accused last December of having sent journalists “known for their proximity to the Azerbaijani intelligence services” to follow a trip to New Caledonia by the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu. Their objective: “to write articles with an anti-France angle,” according to the French radio station Europe 1, which revealed the matter.

Becoming a champion of the ‘global south’

Without mentioning the colonial nature of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where the right to self-determination of the Armenians of Artsakh has been trampled, we wonder about the fact that the Baku Initiative Group is content to denounce French “neocolonialism,” while sparing its ally, the United Kingdom, and its Commonwealth.

From 2019 until last January, Azerbaijan has had valuable leverage by providing the general secretariat for the Non-Aligned Movement at the UN, an organization created in Belgrade in 1961. That has been enough to establish contacts with peoples fighting for their independence. This organization today includes many authoritarian regimes that hide behind an anti-colonial discourse to justify the nature of their regime. In this context, the Azerbaijani government, via the Baku Initiative Group, the coordination office of the ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, and also the C24 (the UN Special Committee on Decolonization), has organized numerous conferences with activists and political figures from French overseas territories – nine, in just the last eight months, to be exact.

For the leaders of New Caledonia, Azerbaijan likely constitutes a lever allowing them to build an international network. In the past, the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in conflict with France in Chad, had supported the independence activists of New Caledonia. Unlike China and Australia, Azerbaijan is not eyeing the nickel deposits of this Pacific island. But Baku is still hitting Paris where it hurts, its Achilles heel, and establishing itself as champion of the “global south” constitutes a profitable strategy of influence.

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