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Armenia’s French Connection

Dr Jason Wahlang is a Research Analyst in the Europe and Eurasia Centre at MP-IDSA, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • April 23, 2024


    The Russia–Ukraine and the Armenia–Azerbaijan conflict have impacted the Eurasian regional security framework. These conflicts have shaped and bolstered the contours of various relationships, including the Armenia–France relationship. France is Armenia's most critical European partner. Armenia’s complementarist approach, which is correlated to the recent foreign policy initiatives adopted regarding France, has further enhanced their relationship.

    Paris and Yerevan’s high-level diplomatic dialogue has its roots in their centuries-long relationship based on shared values and cultural appreciation.1 Furthermore, after Russia, since 2016, France has ranked as the country with the second-largest investments in Armenia, totalling €229 million. Its investments are primarily in agri-food, water and banking.2 At the same time, as a member of Le Francophonie, Armenia contributes to promoting the French language and political, economic, educational and cultural cooperation with its European partner.3   More importantly, while being the first European nation to recognise the Armenian Genocide,4 on 14 October 2016, France took the additional step of criminalising the denial of the Armenian genocide.5

    With the evolving geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus, Armenians could look towards the French as part of their continuous quest to diversify foreign relations and reduce Russia's influence. On the other hand, the French look towards Armenia as a viable partner, with which they already share old ties that would help further stamp their regional influence.

    Current Dynamics

    There has been an increased focus on strengthening cooperation between the two actors, reiterating the inviolability of Armenian sovereignty. French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal recently demanded the withdrawal of Azeri troops from the occupied areas in Armenia, highlighting French support for Armenia.6 Apart from being active in its efforts to support Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan, the French remain focused on building its relationship with the Armenian defence sector. 

    Defence (including arms sales to Armenia) has long served as the primary sector of cooperation between Yerevan and Paris. The Nagorno-Karabakh war deepened their ties as France began selling air defence systems to bolster Armenia’s response. The two countries have also signed a contract on 23 October 2023 for three Ground Masters radars, including binoculars and sensors.7 Moreover, regular meetings between Ministers of Defence and an agreement to deploy a French defence consultant to train Armenian soldiers8 are now in place as part of the contract signed in October 2023. Armenia’s growing cooperation with France in this sector can be perceived as part of its undertaking to diversify and deepen its defence partnerships globally, mainly in the light of expanding Azeri aggression.

    France has adopted a proactive role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with its involvement ranging from peace-making via the Minsk Group in the first War in Nagorno Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 1990s to the recognition of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh in the Armenian) republic’s independence in 2020 after the start of the Second War.9 Additionally, it provided €15 million in emergency aid to Armenia to look after the refugees of Nagorno-Karabakh10 while condemning the Azeri blockade in Lachin, which restricted the supply of goods and movement of people.11

    Russia’s dismissive attitude towards Armenia has festered disappointment and resentment during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. Resultantly, the latter has courted European countries like France with growing enthusiasm. The European Union peace initiatives have been received favourably by Armenians, who have sought greater international support and cooperation regarding Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

    France is also home to the largest Armenian diaspora in the European Union and the third largest globally,12 with around 500,000. French governments therefore do recognise the significance of this diaspora electorally. Armenian causes find support across ideological fault lines in France. In 2017, four French Armenians—Daniele Cazarian, Nadia Essayan, Guillaume Kasbarian, and Jacques Marilossian—won election to the French parliament, highlighting their growing influence in the national political arena. 

    Recently, the entry ban on Mourad Papazian, the leader of the Dashnaktsutyun party (pan-Armenian party) based in France, was revoked. The ban was initially imposed on Papazian for protesting against the Armenian leadership's visit to France in June 2021.13 This tactical change in the Armenian leadership towards its external critics highlights the importance of the French-Armenian diaspora in promoting Armenian leadership ideas in France.

    Besides this, the diaspora plays a prominent role in non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including the Armenian General Benevolent Union, based in France in five cities (Lyon, Marseille, Paris, Valence and Vienne). The organisation aims to build a bridge between Armenians and the diaspora and promote the prosperity and well-being of all Armenians.14

    Russia’s and Azerbaijan's Reactions

    Russia, one of the regional powers in the Caucasus, has reacted to rising Armenian-French relations. It has stated that it would reconsider its relationship with Armenia if it continues to tilt towards the West.15 Russia's reactions to Armenia’s relationship with France have not been as critical as its focus remains on France's involvement in Ukraine. But in the long term, there could be a more sharper response from Russia.

    Azerbaijan has viewed the expanding French-Armenian ties negatively, criticising the recent developments in defence cooperation between the two countries. Accusing France of stoking a new war in the region by arming Armenia, the Azeri government has forewarned that France would be culpable should another conflict arise.16 The Azeris have also denounced what they perceive as the absence of credible French involvement in the peace process despite its co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group.17

    Azeri officials have publicly expressed these criticisms despite Azerbaijan’s close economic cooperation with European countries such as France and membership of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative. The Azeris’ hostile attitude must be understood through its ever-present resistance to France establishing a regional presence. This is mainly due to the French statements in support of the Armenian stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. France’s stance became more visible after the French statements on the Lachin blockade and the recognition of Artsakh as an independent Republic.


    France and Russia’s opposing positions on Ukraine, primarily after President Emanuel Macron announced deploying troops in Ukrainian territory, have worsened ties between the two countries. Therefore, French involvement in Armenia would be viewed with even more suspicion and disdain. Armenia, like Ukraine, could become a stage for a new ‘Great Game’ in the long term between the two powers.

    Due to Russian preoccupation in Ukraine, the Azeris have gained the advantage and held the upper hand over Armenia in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. France's increasing participation in the region could hinder that moving forward, creating a level playing field between the two conflicting nations.

    Russia considered Armenia as a more significant ally in the post-Soviet space and would not want to entertain any involvement from Europe, particularly France. Armenia already has a complex relationship with the Russian-dominated security organisation, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, leading to a conflict of interest with Russia. Any attempts to move towards the European sphere or further develop any relationship could cause further friction between the two nations.

    Despite the lack of probability of a possible Armenian defection from the Russian sphere of influence, Armenia would continue attempting to diversify its strategic partners and uphold its territorial sovereignty against adversarial powers.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.