Arms sale claim heightened tensions ahead of 2023 Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks

Online narratives claimed Iran or Russia might exploit French weapons that were allegedly bound for Armenia

Arms sale claim heightened tensions ahead of 2023 Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks

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BANNER: A soldier of the self-defense army of Nagorno-Karabakh carries weapons in Martakert province, Nagorno-Karabakh , April 4, 2016. (Source: Reuters/Vahan Stepanyan/PAN Photo)

In the lead-up to peace negotiations in June 2023 between Armenia and Azerbaijan, unconfirmed narratives concerning the alleged delivery of lethal weapons from France to Armenia spread online. While Armenia did eventually sign an agreement with France for defensive weapons, the DFRLab identified narratives months before the agreement was signed claiming French weapons were en route to Armenia. The narratives also speculated without evidence that the French weapons could be transferred to Russia or Iran. These claims occurred ahead of the June 2023 peace talks – of which France was a party – via dubious sourcing and amplification by multiple actors, including Azerbaijani state media. The talks were ultimately unsuccessful in reaching an agreement.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has been vocal in expressing his grievances toward France’s growing relationship with Armenia. Immediately following the peace talks, Azerbaijan said that a statement issued by French President Emmanuel Macron was inaccurate and unhelpful to the peace process. Later, Aliyev refused to participate in pre-planned talks scheduled for October 2023 in Granada, Spain, with Macron, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, President of the European Council Charles Michel, and Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz. Aliyev said he would not participate because France’s position was already known. “The provision of weapons by France to Armenia was an approach that was not serving peace, but one intended to ignite a new conflict, and if any new conflict occurred in the region, France would be responsible for causing it,” said a statement issued by Aliyev’s office.  

In early April 2023, two months prior to the June peace talks, representatives from the French General Delegation for Armament (DGA), a state body overseeing weapons procurement, met with Armen Grigoryan, Armenia’s national security secretary. Later that same month, while on a visit to Armenia, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna spoke to local press about France opening a defense mission within its embassy in Armenia.

Around the same time, Intelligence Online, a French outlet covering business intelligence, published a piece that claimed France would appoint a defense attaché in Yerevan and examined the implications of such an appointment. Over the following weeks, the Intelligence Online article was then misrepresented online to spread unsubstantiated narratives that implied French authorities were already providing Armenia with lethal armaments and that these could make their way to Iran or Russia. Azerbaijani media including the Russian-language Azerbaijani Telegram channel AZFront amplified the claim, alleging France was launching a proxy war. Israeli broadcast outlet i24NEWS also amplified the narrative, citing AZFront and other sources.

In September 2023, Azerbaijan launched a military attack on the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The attack came after Azerbaijan imposed a ten-month blockade of the only road connecting the territory to Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory that was largely populated by ethnic Armenians. The region had governed by the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic government since the 1990s. After a day of continuous fighting on September 19, Azerbaijan claimed full control of Nagorno-Karabakh, prompting more than 100,000 Armenians to flee the territory. In response, the European Parliament accused Baku of ethnic cleansing.

On September 27, France announced plans to open a consulate in southern Armenia’s Syunik region. One week later, France announced it would supply defensive weapons to Armenia to strengthen its shield against Azerbaijan. On October 23, Armenia and France signed a defense cooperation for the delivery of weapons. Meawhile, France24 noted that Azerbaijan’s territorial claim toward Armenia could extend beyond Nagorno-Karabakh, which in turn could spark another war.

Origins of the claim

The April 2023 article published by Intelligence Online suggested that France aimed to “give Armenia a military opening rather than remaining one-on-one with Moscow both in terms of reassurance and armaments acquisition.” It cited the establishment of a bilateral armament committee to oversee Armenian acquisitions of French weaponry, but noted that Armenia’s tight financial situation could impose limitations on these purchases. The report added that former Armenian President Armen Sarkissian previously had connections with French military companies.

On May 13, 2023, the Telegram channel AZFront published a post alleging the first batch of weapons from France to Armenia, including fifty armored personnel carriers (APCs), had already been shipped. Notably, the post mentioned Intelligence Online’s April 2023 article and described the outlet as “the secret mouthpiece of French intelligence services” (“негласный рупор спецслужб Франции”). It also cited Russia’s IA REX and sources from Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR).

On May 15 and 16, the Israeli TV channel i24NEWS published two reports, one in English and one in French, alleging that France would deliver weapons to Armenia. Citing both the GUR and AZfront, the articles speculated that Iran or Russia could benefit from the delivery of French weapons to Armenia. “The likelihood that French weapons will fall into the hands of the Iranians is quite high,” one of the articles asserted. In response, Nouvelles d’Arménie Magazine, a France-based online blog advocating for the rights of Armenians in Artsakh (the Armenian name for Karabakh) described the i24NEWS reports a as “a hoax.”

The claims were further amplified by two smaller outlets who cited i24NEWS and used the same banner photo and similar headlines. The first, Musulmans en France, published the headline, “Will Iran be the main beneficiary of France’s policy in the south Caucasus?” The second, La Gazette du Caucase, published the headline, “France’s dangerous policy in the south Caucasus could benefit Iran.” The chief editor of both websites is Jean-Michel Brun, according to his LinkedIn profile. The metadata of the banner image on Musulmans en France shows that the image was created in Photoshop on May 18, 2023. La Gazette du Caucase posted its article on the same date and Musulmans en France published its article a day later. The metadata also suggested that the background of the image was created using the generative-AI algorithm Adobe Firefly.

Further, the Google AdSense code retrieved on La Gazette du Caucase’s website indicates that the website is linked to an Azerbaijani news agency,, as they shared the same AdSense code. The code also appears on the Austrian-based news outlet Das Fazit (The Conclusion) established in 2021. Additionally, DNS records associated with La Gazette du Caucase indicate its IP address is hosted in Azerbaijan. Jean-Michel Brun often appears on Azerbaijani news channels and is presented as “the CEO of the newspaper, founded by [the International Media Agency] Trend in France.”

The English i24NEWS article was further amplified on X by foreign policy commentator Michael Doran, whose tweet gathered more than 63,000 views.

On May 15, the author of the i24NEWS articles, Ariel Kogan, also published an article for a US-based outlet titled “France to Assist Iranian Ally: Grave Consequences for Israel and Ukraine.” In the article, Kogan cited the US-based international security outlet Global Security Review to state, “France is seriously considering delivering Mistral anti-air missile systems to Armenia, to contend with Israeli and Turkish drones in use by the Azerbaijani armed forces.” The Global Security Review article in question does not state that these weapons are under serious consideration, however, nor does it mention Israel or Turkey; rather, it described the weapons systems as a potential option: “One option for Yerevan’s new IADS [integrated air defense systems] is the Mistral, a French MANPADS which can counter Azeri threats from the air.”

On May 19, AZFront published another post with the headline, “France’s supply of weapons to Armenia: plays into the hands of the Russian Federation and Iran, contrary to the interests of Ukraine and Israel.” A BuzzSumo backlink search revealed that AZFront was cited by news websites operating in Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian, though these pieces received limited social media engagement.

During the DFRLab’s investigation, the AZFront Telegram channel closed and re-opened, and some posts were deleted. The DFRLab used the Telegram analytics tool TGStat to identify deleted posts pushing narratives about French weapons. According to a TGStat query, AZFront shared at least eight posts between May 13-24, 2023. The first post on May 13, “Kyiv is concerned: France has started supplying arms to Armenia (AZfront exlusive),” mentioned the delivery of fifty APCs; it has since been deleted. Subsequent posts included “The delivery of French weapons to Armenia is a gift from Paris to Moscow and Tehran” (May 16); “The mouthpiece of Muslims in France: French weapons will go to the Iranians from Armenia” (May 19); and “France’s supply of weapons to Armenia: plays into the hands of the Russian Federation and Iran, contrary to the interests of Ukraine and Israel” (May 19), among several others.

Further, the Ukrainian opposition-run news outlet Channel 5 published on May 15 an article titled “Kyiv is worried: France has started supplying weapons to Armenia – Azfront.” The outlet claimed that Russia could use the French weapons for counterattacks against Ukraine. The same claims were published in the Lithuanian outlet with a similar headline: “Kyiv is worried: France has started supplying weapons to Armenia.” Additionally, three Romanian outlets, including one that has previously published disinformation, shared articles using headlines similar to and citing the same sources as Channel 5. 

Azerbaijani state TV accuses France of launching proxy war

On May 13, 2023, Azerbaijan state-funded TV channels AZTV and ITV (İctimai TV) and private TV channel ATV (Azad Azerbaijan) broadcast a story titled “France has launched a proxy war against Azerbaijan.” The television programs aired drone footage depicting an explosion, allegedly filmed May 12 in Karabakh. Both AZTV and ATV alleged that the aerial video depicted a French military instructor sent to train Armenians. The reports focus on one individual in the footage, analyzing their behavior following an explosion and claiming that the individual appears “professional” and “patient while crawling,” unlike two other servicemen seen in the footage. “In his conduct, one can discern a notably elevated level of readiness in alignment with NATO standards,” the AZTV anchor stated.

The video originated on Caliber, a news website founded in 2021 that operates in Armenian, English, and Russian under the Azerbaijani-owned Global Media Group. Caliber said they obtained the footage themselves. Some of the claims that were broadcast by the Azerbaijani news programs used strikingly similar language to that of a post made by Caliber on X, formerly known as Twitter. Previous research by the DFRLab identified Caliber’s Telegram channel in a cluster of accounts promoting hate speech surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh escalation.  

According to a query using the Meta search tool CrowdTangle, the video was shared in May at least twenty-four times on Instagram and Facebook, receiving 2,680 total interactions. The Azerbaijani news channels and subsequent social media posts did not present further evidence to support the claim of a French proxy war. The only evidence provided was the video and the allegations made by Caliber.

It remains unknown what impact these claims had on the peace process, but it is notable that they had the potential to influence or undermine the peace talks, which ultimately failed.

Cite this case study:

Ani Mejlumyan and Valentin Châtelet, “Arms sale claim heightened tensions ahead of 2023 Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), February 21, 2024,