01.06.2024 Author: Seth Ferris

New Caledonia: France and Azerbaijan, Blowback in a Pacific Island Paradise!

New Caledonia: France and Azerbaijan, Blowback in a Pacific Island Paradise!

What does this have to do with the Pacific, and in particular the French possession of New Caledonia, we may ask? The recent revolt by the people of New Caledonia against their French colonial exploiters provides crucial insight into how colonialism actually operates and its consequences.

But what is the nexus?

 It should come as no surprise that France has been stirring the pot, causing anger in Azerbaijan with its close to unconditional support for the Armenians, particularly in relation to the Azeri success in restoring its territorial integrity. In 2020, the French called for independence for what the Armenians called Artsakh, but for the Azeris it was, would be and remains Nagorno-Karabakh.  France’s strong support for Armenians has angered Azerbaijan, especially after Azerbaijan restored its territorial integrity,

In late August 2023, French interference in the region started with sending French representatives to take part in “aid convoys” to support the separatist government, which cause an immediate and angry reaction from Baku. France was also extremely vocal in condemning the final military operation launched by Baku on September 19th and 20th, which resulted in its full reintegration into Azerbaijan based on international law.

France’s foreign minister on Tuesday blasted the military operation launched by Azerbaijan in the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh as “illegal, unjustifiable, unacceptable.”

Adding, “I would like to emphasize that we hold Azerbaijan responsible for the fate of Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Catherine Colonna, told journalists on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

This is not particularly surprising, given the size of the Armenian lobby in France. And French interference continues in 2024, with the French decision to “rebuild Armenian defences” by the supply of air defense systems and radars (I wonder how Zelensky feels about this largesse?) and French training of Armenian soldiers.

Also included but not limited to … Mistral SAM systems, and radars, night vision equipment, and training and modernization of the Armenian military are all an attempt to “rebalance” the military equation, with Yerevan expecting to spend billions on new equipment.

Needless to say, this has not gone down well in Baku, with Azeri experts noting:

“The half-baked move by France to insert itself into the region will likely provoke significant reactions from Russia and Iran, and Azerbaijan is concerned that this will lead to regional instability, obstructing efforts towards normalization,” said Ayaz Rzayev, a research fellow at Baku’s influential Topchubashov Center think tank.

“Even if weapons are labeled as defensive, they inherently possess some offensive potential. Consequently, Azerbaijan feels compelled to respond to these arms deliveries with countermeasures,” he added. “All of this creates a vicious cycle of actions and counteractions that could spiral into an arms race, potentially leading to conflict.”

What does this have to do with the Pacific, and in particular the French possession of New Caledonia, we may ask?

Let’s delve into the background of the “piece of France” in the Pacific Ocean. New Caledonia was first populated by Melanesians around 3000 BC and remained isolated until Captain Cook’s visit in 1774. The French claimed the islands in 1853, ignoring the native population’s wishes, leading to bloody rebellions until 1917.

Today, local politics is divided between pro and anti-independence parties. The pro-independence Party of Kanak Liberation currently provides the President due to a coalition majority. Under the 1998 Noumea Accords, a referendum on independence was held in 2021, with a slim majority voting to remain part of France.

With the situation stable, the French government made a significant error. The Noumea Accords limited voting rights to those living in New Caledonia before 1998 and their descendants, excluding many who might support pro-French parties. President Macron proposed a bill to extend voting rights to all residents, but he did so without consulting local authorities, including the New Caledonian President. The law was passed by the French parliament on May 15, 2024.

The reaction was, to say the least, violent.

Protests immediately sprang to life in the capital, Noumea, and rapidly degenerated into riots as French police reacted with their usual thuggery (it should be noted that the French have been particularly vocal in denouncing Georgian police for “violence” which is typical of French hypocrisy), resulting in at least 3 dead and hundreds wounded, including over one hundred French Gendarmes.

A state of emergency has been declared and the situation is so bad that Australia has offered to send troops to assist the French, who are still trying to reopen the road to the international airport.

Stunning Claim

In the midst of all this violence, the French have made a rather stunning claim that Azerbaijan was supporting the separatists, based on the appearance of Azeri flags amongst those waved by those protesting against the new law that would dilute the strength of the home-grown pro-independence movement.

Azerbaijan opposes French colonialism in the Pacific. In July 2023, it invited leaders from Martinique, French Guiana, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia to a conference titled “Towards the Complete Elimination of Colonialism,” leading to the formation of the Baku Group which aims to “support the just struggle of the peoples suffering from the colonial policy of France”

The group issued a statement this week expressing solidarity with the Indigenous Kanak people against the new French reforms. “We stand in solidarity with our Kanak friends and support their fair struggle,” it said. The French response, which also blames Russia and China, was made by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who told the TV channel, France 2, that Azerbaijan, alongside China and Russia, was “interfering” in New Caledonia.

“I regret that some of the Caledonian pro-independence leaders have made a deal with Azerbaijan,” he alleged.

He added:

“Even if there are attempts at interference … France is sovereign on its own territory, and so much the better.”

Meanwhile, the Azeri government is not taking these accusations laying down, responding

“The stance of France demonstrates that it refuses to learn from the current situation in the colonial regions that it faces today and continues its previous behavior and policy in this regard”

Azerbaijan likely sees an opportunity to trouble France in response to French interference in Nagorno-Karabakh, exposing French hypocrisy. It must be especially frustrating for the pro-independence native population to watch the French government support ethnic independence in Nagorno-Karabakh while suppressing them with the Gendarmerie and French military.

An excellent example of blowback, where French interference in the Caucasus causes them trouble elsewhere.

The loss of the islands of New Caledonia would be a further disaster for France in general, and for Macron in particular, as they have been unceremoniously booted out of the colonial possessions in the Sahel region of Africa. Losing the islands would not only damage French prestige, but, as with Niger, would have a significant economic impact as well, as New Caledonia is France’s main source of nickel, a metal vital to the production of modern technology, particularly in military applications.

The military bases and airport there are crucial for France to project power in the Pacific and support potential US-led conflicts against China or Russia. In their efforts to retain control, the French and their allies have often resorted to violence.

I fear the islands will become another Algeria, where French forces will disproportionately kill and torture in a futile attempt to maintain control over a territory they should have relinquished long ago. France should learn from its recent failures in Africa.

The loss of colonies, such as in Vietnam, should serve as a hard learned lesson, but French arrogance prevents them from admitting they are no longer an empire, similar to the stance of the British and Americans.


Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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