Sun, 24 Jan 2021

The first of two cargo planes carrying humanitarian aid for Armenians suffering as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict arrived in Yerevan on Sunday, less than two weeks after a Russian-brokered ceasefire put an end to six weeks of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops.

The plane carried emergency medical equipment, including a mobile unit capable of treating 500 people, blankets and hygiene kits, according to a statement from the French Foreign Ministry.

Another cargo flight will leave on Friday, transporting equipment such as healthcare products, warm clothes and toys collected by France's 600,000-strong Armenian diaspora, along with humanitarian organisations and foundations.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian tweeted his appreciation: "France, friend of Armenia and the Armenian people, is at our side."

Youri Djorkaeff, the former French-Armenian footballer, will be on board Friday's flight.

"There is now a ceasefire, but the humanitarian situation is dramatic", the 1998 world champion said at a fund-raising event on Saturday attended by President Emmanuel Macron.

"This humanitarian aid is obviously what we should do for the 120,000 displaced people from Nagorny-Karabakh and the seven restored provinces," Macron explained, "and for the million Armenians who are currently living in unbearable conditions ... under-nourished and in great poverty."

'Few belongings'

The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by its ethnic-Armenian majority for the past 30 years.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought over the disputed region since then. In the latest six-week period of fighting thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed and more than half of the region's 150,000 population was displaced.

The two countries agreed to end hostilities and signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement on 9 November whereby Armenia, the loser, agreed to relinquish control over 20 percent of territory captured by Azerbaijan during the recent fighting.

While Armenia will continue to govern most of Nagorno-Karabakh itself, its people have to leave several districts such as Agdham and Kalbajar and the historical town of Shusha.

Displaced Armenians "had to flee with very few belongings," Christophe Dossikian, vice-president of the Armenian fund, said on Saturday.

The diaspora has raised €1.7 million in donations so far but "the needs are far greater" according to Dossikian.

"We welcome president Macron's commitment," he added.

France's role

Emmanuel Macron has been careful not to back one side over another since the conflict erupted in late September, but has faced criticism at home that he did not do enough to help Yerevan.

Members of France's Armenian diaspora, the largest in Europe, have demonstrated in recent weeks calling for more French intervention in the crisis.

Within his own LREM party, Anne-Laurence Petel appealed to her fellow MPs to sign a resolution calling on the government to recognise Nagorno-Karabakh's independence.

Macron now seems ready, and eager, to play a bigger role in stabilising the ceasefire.

The president has demanded a "patrimonial and cultural ceasefire" to avoid the "destruction of Armenian cultural and religious heritage in the region".

He also wants more international involvement in the peace-keeping process, which is currently in the hands of some 2,000 Russian troops.

More Minsk, less Turkey

France co-presides the Minsk group - set up in 1992 in an effort to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute - alongside Russia and the US. But only Russia was involved in brokering the latest ceasefire.

Since then, Russia has held talks with Turkey, a key Azerbaijani ally and a harsh critic of the Minsk group.

France is concerned over Turkey's growing influence in the region, fearing that Ankara might deploy troops there.

"We want the Minsk Group to play its role in defining the surveillance of the ceasefire," a French presidential official told reporters.

France wants "international supervision" of the ceasefire in order to allow the return of refugees, to organise the return of foreign fighters, especially from Syria, and to begin talks on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"It needs to be consolidated," Macron said.

Relations between France and Turkey have deteriorated sharply in recent months.

In early October, Macron accused Turkey of sending hundreds of mercenaries and jihadists to help Azerbaijan.

"Turkey has crossed a red line - that's unacceptable," the French president said.

Orginally published on RFI

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