Azerbaijan slams French Senate’s vote on Nagorno-Karabakh

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijani officials have criticized a resolution adopted by the French Senate that urges the French government to recognize the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent republic.

The resolution, adopted on Wednesday, is symbolic and does not mean the French government will recognize a sovereign Nagorno-Karabakh, but sends a message of support to France’s large Armenian community. No U.N. member state recognizes the region, over which Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-long conflict, as independent.

Nevertheless, the move elicited outrage in Azerbaijan, which has previously criticized France for taking a “pro-Armenian” stand in the dispute.

Several dozen people protested in front of the French embassy in the capital, Baku, on Thursday, chanting “France, be fair!” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Wednesday that the document can only be seen “as a provocation” and stressed that it “has no legal force.”

Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev denounced the resolution Thursday as a “piece of paper adopted to serve narrow political ambitions,” and said that France’s “open pro-Armenian position… has become one of the main factors hindering the peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

Azerbaijan’s parliament urged the country’s government to reach out to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in order to revoke France’s status as a co-chair of the Minsk Group set up by the Organization to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The parliament also called on the government “to reconsider existing political relations” with France.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994. That war left Nagorno-Karabakh itself and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.

Heavy fighting that erupted in late September marked the biggest escalation of a long-simmering conflict between the two ex-Soviet nations.

The violence was halted by a Russian-brokered truce two weeks ago. The agreement stipulated that Armenia hand over control to Azerbaijan of some areas it holds outside Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders and was celebrated in Baku as a major victory.

Two out of three territories mentioned in the agreement have already been handed over to Azerbaijan.

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