Ottawa has one rule for Turkey and another for Saudi Arabia, which has killed thousands in Yemen.
Canada’s decision to suspend the export of drone components to Turkey, citing reports that they are being used in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has triggered a debate about how rich countries treat different conflicts.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a border conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since late last month.
The region is internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan’s territory but the Armenian military has occupied it since the 1990s. The two sides have fought bloody wars over the mountainous enclave.
Azerbaijan has historically been close to Turkey while Armenia is receiving diplomatic support from Russia, raising concerns that Ankara and Moscow, who are already on opposing sides in Libya and Syria, can be drawn into another protracted conflict.
Azerbaijani officials have accused Armenia of targeting civilian settlements in places such as its second-largest city of Ganja, which was attacked with artillery shells and rockets over the weekend.
Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani President, said in an interview, that Turkish drones have helped bring down casualties in the conflict.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, said on Monday that Ottawa was suspending export permits for sophisticated drone cameras to Turkey, which makes its own drones but uses some imported components.
The decision drew immediate rebuke from Ankara and independent observers who see it as a double-standard, especially considering that Canada has continued to supply lethal-weapons to Saudi Arabia, which uses them against poverty-stricken Yemen.
“Canada's decision is an indicator of its double standards regarding Azerbaijan's rightful struggle to liberate its lands from Armenian occupation for the past three decades as the country continues to export arms to countries militarily involved in the Yemen conflict, even though it has come under criticism by the UN for doing so,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in its statement.
Samuel Ramani, an international relations analyst, says that Canada’s differing response to Saudi Arabia and Turkey is a “striking contradiction.”
Despite international pressure and concerns over human rights violations, Canada has continued to supply weapons to the Saudis who have relentlessly bombarded Yemeni areas under the control of Houthi rebels.
Last year, Canada sold a record $2.2 billion of weapons, including armoured cars to Saudi Arabia even though publicly there was a moratorium on such deals.
Unlike Turkey, which is only using Canadian-made optics and sensors on its Bayraktar drones, it has long been an open secret that Canada has sold high-powered sniper rifles and other weapons to Riyadh.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the Saudi-led Yemen war that has seen hospitals, schools, funerals and marriage ceremonies being bombed from the air.
Turkey has another reason to be upset with the Canadian decision. Ankara didn’t receive help from fellow NATO members such as Canada when it confronted the hostile Syrian regime forces earlier this year.
Turkish drones have played a crucial role in keeping down the casualty figure and making sure that only military infrastructure, such as tanks and armoured vehicles, are hit. The indigenously developed armed drones have also pushed back the militias of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar.
Not all drones are used for armed attacks. They are also deployed for surveillance.
Canada’s announcement to cut off supply to Turkey follows a concerted lobbying by Armenian groups, which are trying to influence Canadian public opinion against Azerbaijan’s rightful claim.