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Women take refuge in a bomb shelter during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.The Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has complained, in a phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that Canada is behaving unfairly toward a fellow NATO ally by suspending the export of targeting gear used in Turkish drones, which are allegedly being employed by Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia.

In a statement summarizing the conversation Friday, the Turkish government said: “President Erdogan stated it is against the alliance spirit for Canada to suspend the export of some military products to Turkey due to the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict.”

Canada and Turkey are both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance.

Mr. Erdogan also spoke to Mr. Trudeau about ways to improve Turkey-Canada relations including “resolving problems in defence-industry co-operation," the Turkish government said.

According to a statement release by The Prime Minister’s Office, “the Prime Minister and the President exchanged views on the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Prime Minister stressed the importance of all parties seeking a peaceful resolution through dialogue and diplomacy, noting that there could be no military solution to this conflict.”

Earlier this month, Canada froze permits enabling the export of target-acquisition gear produced by L3Harris Wescam, based in Burlington, Ont., to Turkish drone-maker Baykar. The department of Global Affairs commenced an investigation into allegations that this equipment has been diverted to the escalating Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azjerbaijan and Armenia.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne defended the suspension, saying Canada wants to make sure that no Canadian equipment is being used in the conflict.

But Mr. Champagne also, for the first time, played down the significance of target-acquisition gear being shipped to Turkey. “I just want also to put it in perspective: we’re talking about a few cameras,” he said.

However, Ottawa has suspended multiple permits covering many targeting devices including, as The Globe and Mail first reported, permits issued in May, 2020 allowing the export of seven MX-15D imaging and targeting systems to Baykar.

Arms researchers and Armenian Canadians have said they believe Azerbaijan is using Baykar TB2 drones that include Wescam gear in military operations against Armenia. Video footage of missile strikes by the Azerbaijani military, posted on the internet, contain a graphical overlay that bears a very strong resemblance to the proprietary graphical overlays of systems manufactured by L3Harris Wescam.

Turkey has not confirmed that it’s supplying drones to Azerbaijan, a staunch ally, but Azerbaijan is talking openly about the goods it has received.

This week, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev boasted to the France 24 TV network that “modern, sophisticated” Turkish drones used by his forces have destroyed $1-billion worth of Armenian military hardware.

Kelsey Gallagher, a researcher with Project Ploughshares, a Waterloo, Ont.-based disarmament group, said based on recent trends, he considers it unlikely that the Turkish drones Azerbaijan is using would be a model other than the Baykar-made TB2s.

“We have seen Turkey supply the TB2 to allies during conflict, and recently began selling the aircraft abroad, in only the last couple years,” Mr. Gallagher said.

“Other Turkish-made drones, of which there are only a few, have not been so heavily and intentionally proliferated. The TB2 is also reportedly quite cheap, which would allow cash-strapped militaries to deploy 21st-century tech to the battlefield.”

Sevag Belian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, a grassroots organization representing the Armenian diaspora in this country, said he believes Turkey diverted drones containing the Wescam targeting technology without Canada’s consent.

He said he plans to alert Global Affairs about the Azerbaijani President’s comments, calling it “another piece of evidence” that could support allegations.

Mr. Trudeau, speaking to reporters Friday before his conversation with Mr. Erdogan, declined to explain why his government allowed the export of airstrike targeting gear to Turkey this year despite announcing an embargo on new exports nearly one year ago.

Ottawa initially slapped an embargo on new export permits for arms to Turkey in October, 2019, after a military incursion by Ankara into northern Syria. The approval of export permits this May for the targeting device appears to be an exception to this embargo.

The Canadian government is required under domestic law and under the international Arms Trade Treaty to prevent, detect and stop the diversion of military goods to users other than intended customers. It’s also compelled to stop exports of such restricted goods that are shown to be used to harm civilians.

Turkey has upset NATO allies, chiefly the United States, by its purchase of a Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons system. The U.S. State Department Friday said Washington has warned Ankara of “potential serious consequences” for the bilateral relationship if Turkey activates the S-400 missile system. The United States has said that the S-400s compromise NATO defence systems.

Media reports Friday said Turkey has now tested the S-400.

With reports from Reuters

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