Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has announced that Canada will suspend export of arms to Turkey over concerns of human right violations. Champagne stated on October 5, 2020 that “Canada continues to be concerned by the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting in shelling of communities and civilian casualties.” The suspension will allow Canada’s export regime to conduct an assessment of this situation.
Background on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is composed primarily of ethnic Armenians, who have attempted to separate from Azerbaijan. This has led to a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1988 through 1994. Although a cease fire has held between the two countries, no settlement has been reached over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Officially, no nation currently recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. Recent resumptions of hostilities has raised concerns that a dramatic escalation of the conflict might ensue. During the latest Azerbaijani offensive more that 220 people have been killed.
Canadian Concerns of Turkish Involvement
Canada is concerned that Turkey may be involved in backing Azerbaijan by supplying technology in the conflict. Of special concern is the possible use of Canadian drone technology by Azerbaijani forces. Project Ploughshares, a Canadian peace institute, claims in a recent report that UAVs with Canadian supplied WESCAM EO/IR sensors were used in recent airstrikes. Turkey may have also exported UAVs with these sensors to Libya.
Turkey has openly supported Azerbaijan in this conflict It has however, denied accusations of involvement in recent events. It has also claimed that Canada is employing double standards in its actions, siting Canada’s export of arms to countries with military involvement in Yemen.
Turkey has only recently imported Canadian military goods. In 2019 Turkey purchased over $150 million of defense goods making it Canada’s third largest customer.
Canada’s Next Move
Following the announcement that Canada will suspend arm exports to Turkey Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has requested Champagne to work with European allies on the escalation of military action in the area. It has called upon Armenia and Azerbaijan to negotiate through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The export of defense goods and technology is a complex issue given the number of international conflicts and potential conflicts. Canada has justifiable reasons for concern for its export policies regarding Turkey, though some might argue that this should have been conducted earlier.
Clearly Canada is not alone in its concern about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russia, France, and the United States have called for cessation of hostilities in the region and have asked involved parties to resume negotiations.
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