Toronto-based INKAS Armored Vehicle Manufacturing displays its Sentry Armoured Personnel Carrier at the CANSEC 2017 defence industry trade show in Ottawa on May 30, 2017. The company has signed a contract for the export of these APCs to Azerbaijan.

Toronto-based INKAS Armored Vehicle Manufacturing displays its Sentry Armoured Personnel Carrier at the CANSEC 2017 defence industry trade show in Ottawa on May 30, 2017. The company has signed a contract for the export of these APCs to Azerbaijan.
Photo Credit: Levon Sevunts

EXCLUSIVE: Canadian defence deal with Azerbaijan raises new questions about arms export controls

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A deal by a Canadian company to export armoured personnel carriers to Azerbaijan and set up a joint production of these military-style vehicles in the oil-rich former Soviet republic is once again raising questions about the efficacy of Canada’s defence export controls.

Toronto-based INKAS Armored Vehicle Manufacturing has signed a deal with Azerbaijan’s interior ministry under which the company has already delivered “a few” Canadian-made armoured personnel carriers (APCs).

The privately owned company has also set up a joint venture with an Azerbaijani firm to produce APCs in Azerbaijan, which has been embroiled in a simmering armed conflict with neighbouring Armenia since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, said Roman Shimonov, vice-president of marketing and business development at INKAS.

“Azerbaijan is a very unique country in terms of geographic location, in terms of geopolitical challenges, because they are in the middle between Iran and Armenia and Turkey,” said Shimonov, who has also been appointed CEO of the joint venture AZCAN Defence Solutions. “And they have resources, more resources than other countries, and they are looking to be able to have more solutions in terms of defence — and not only defence, they’re looking to protect their borders.”

Export permits approved by Ottawa
The interior of an armoured personnel carrier. A Canadian company has been exporting the vehicle to Azerbaijan, a country with a questionable human rights record. (Levon Sevunts/Radio Canada International)
The interior of an armoured personnel carrier. A Canadian company has been exporting the vehicle to Azerbaijan, a country with a questionable human rights record. © Levon Sevunts

Shimonov says the company has fully complied with all the government rules for the export of military goods.

“We cannot sell anything without getting a written permit from export control and once we get it, we know that our authorities, our Canadian authorities, have checked and they have approved,” Shimonov said.

Global Affairs Canada, the federal department responsible for issuing export permits for military and controlled goods, said “all applications for permits to export dual-use, military and strategic goods are assessed on a case-by-case basis, based on the specific goods and technology being exported, the destination country, and the specific end-use and end-user, amongst other criteria.”

“Regional peace and stability, including civil conflict and human rights, as well as the possibility of unauthorized transfer or diversion of the exported goods and technology, are actively considered,” said Global Affairs spokesperson Natasha Nystrom.

‘Recurring crackdown on fundamental freedoms’
A policeman detains an opposition activist in Baku March 12, 2011.
A policeman detains an opposition activist in Baku March 12, 2011. © Stringer .

And yet the federal government granted INKAS permits for the export of APCs despite ongoing concerns over Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record.

“Canada and Azerbaijan benefit from cooperation on issues of mutual interest and concern,” Nystrom said. “However, we are concerned with the recurring crackdown on fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan, particularly with respect to journalists and human rights defenders in the country.”

Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized Azerbaijan’s human rights record and accused it of a “thorough crackdown on dissenting voices,” as well as persistent reports of torture and other ill-treatment perpetrated by its law enforcement agencies.

In November 2015, Azerbaijani police used Israeli-made armoured personnel carriers similar to those produced by INKAS in a controversial security operation that resulted in the death of six people and dozens of arrests in the town of Nardaran, about 30 kilometres northeast of the capital Baku.

Ongoing armed conflict
In this image made from video on Sunday, April 3, 2016, a Grad missile is fired by Azerbaijani forces in the village of Gapanli, Azerbaijan.
In this image made from video on Sunday, April 3, 2016, a Grad missile is fired by Azerbaijani forces in the village of Gapanli, Azerbaijan. © AP video via AP

The granting of the export permits also seems to contradict the government’s own export control goals that stipulate among other things that Canadian defence exports “do not contribute to national or regional conflicts or instability.”

In April 2016, tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia once again erupted into an intense four-day war in contravention of a ceasefire signed in 1994. According to several experts, it appears the Azerbaijani military launched a surprise offensive against Armenian forces that control the breakaway Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.

 An explosion of a downed Azerbaijani drone in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Monday, April 4, 2016. The Nagorno-Karabakh military said it downed several Azerbaijani drones since fighting around the region erupted April 1.
An explosion of a downed Azerbaijani drone in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Monday, April 4, 2016. The Nagorno-Karabakh military said it downed several Azerbaijani drones since fighting around the region erupted on April 1. © Vahram Baghdasaryan

In addition, there are almost daily reports of clashes, sniper fire, artillery exchanges and commando raids along the entire line of contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the disputed region.

According to data collected by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) over the last two decades, Azerbaijan has spent over $30 billion of its oil wealth to rearm and retrain its military, purchasing high-tech weapons and munitions from Russia, Israel, Turkey, Ukraine and Pakistan.

“They feel that part of their land is taken and they want to be competitive in terms of capabilities, and that’s why they’re looking to protect their soldiers and they’re looking for the best product, and when it comes to the best product in our industry, we definitely can offer a lot of solutions, very cost-effective solutions,” Shimonov said.

‘Paramilitary and law enforcement solutions’
A local resident walks past police vehicles after recent mass protests in the town of Ismailli, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of the capital Baku, January 25, 2013. Azeri police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding a local leader’s resignation after cars and a hotel were torched in a night of rioting.
A local resident walks past police vehicles after recent mass protests in the town of Ismailli, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of the capital Baku, January 25, 2013. Azeri police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding a local leader’s resignation after cars and a hotel were torched in a night of rioting. © David Mdzinarishvili

And yet at the same time, Shimonov claims INKAS doesn’t produce military vehicles.

“We mostly focus on paramilitary and law enforcement solutions,” Shimonov said during an interview at the recent CANSEC defence industry trade show in Ottawa. “Our vehicles are not designed to provide any solution in the military field.”

However, that’s not what the company claims in its sales pitch on its own website.

“The INKAS Sentry APC is designed to be used by military forces, SWAT, and other law enforcement agencies all over the world,” reads the vehicle overview of its Sentry model APC.

“The INKAS Huron APC is a multipurpose tactical vehicle, which is able to protect its passengers in high threat environments within almost any climate condition. The vehicle is designed and equipped to operate in police and military tactical missions, convoy protection and border control all over the world,” reads the overview of its Huron model.

“AZCAN’s new ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) vehicle is armed with a Pitbull light remote weapon stations jointly designed by the Israel based companies IAI and General Robotics,” reads the description of the vehicle published in press release at the ADEX 2016 arms show in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, where Shimonov presented the Sentry APC to President Ilham Aliyev.

“The Pitbull LRWS integrate sensors for automatic detection of enemy targets with accurate and fast counter fire capabilities.”

Greater scrutiny needed
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev casts his vote during a referendum on extending presidential terms in Baku, Azerbaijan, September 26, 2016.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev casts his vote during a referendum on extending presidential terms in Baku, Azerbaijan, September 26, 2016. © POOL New

Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of the peace group Project Ploughshares, said the export permit issued to INKAS illustrates an ongoing problem with Canada’s arms exports control mechanism.

The government needs to take a much closer look at the destination country’s general human rights record and the notion of risk and end use when it makes determinations on issuing export permits for military goods, Jaramillo said.

“Even if it’s on case-by-case basis, I think the general knowledge about problems in a certain country should be again an indicator which cases should merit more scrutiny than others, and I think that countries like Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, perhaps, fall into that category of greater scrutiny,” Jaramillo said.

“If the likely end use of any equipment going to Azerbaijan or anywhere else poses or triggers a certain risk, then the export we believe should not proceed.”

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5 comments on “EXCLUSIVE: Canadian defence deal with Azerbaijan raises new questions about arms export controls
  1. Ty says:

    Do a search for the recent file dump by Anonymous Bulgaria – “Silkway Airlines Helps Terrorists” (which is an Azerbaijani state-run flight company) you’ll see that it is clear Azerbaijan has been acting as the international hub for weapons smuggling to terrorist organizations like ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan, and numerous parts of the world. It begs the question, will these vehicles and up in the terrorists hands or their CIA/Mossad commanders?

  2. Kamo Mailyan says:

    Are Canadians paying taxes to arm a dictatorship with poor human rights record? Is the Canadian government fighting ISIS with one hand, and supplying military equipment with the other hand to a dictatorship that is sitting on a powder barrel and can turn into an ISIS any time? Are we, as part of the Canadian society, believing in our role as a contributor to peace and prosperity worldwide, paying taxes to arm a dictatorship to kill our brothers back home? These issues need to be answered by the Canadian government in a transparent way because during the past two decades the international community has been pouring efforts into peaceful resolution of this conflict, and any military support puts the sides out of balance of power in the region and it may resume another war. Being a member of the Canadian society, I would be more willing to pay taxes to make peace but not war. I was hoping Trudeau’s government would be more peace-supporting.

  3. Peter Ashcroft says:

    The difference between democratic external defence and internal dictatorial suppression.

  4. Keith Garebian says:

    Although nothing shocks me anymore in international and Canadian politics (because this is predominantly the Age of Swinish Obscenity by Swamp People), I must register my contempt for our hypocritical government that continues to lead by the ballot box or by corrupt self-interest. A peace-keeping nation with clean hands, you say? Not bloody likely, no matter how outwardly charming, young, vibrant, and hormone-supercharged our PM, who has evidently inherited his father’s moral duplicity.

  5. jerry tutunjian says:

    It’s shocking to read that the Canadian government is allowing the sales of weapons to the dictatorship of Ilham Aliyev.
    The Aliyev family runs Azerbaijan as its personal fiefdom where billions of dollars are extracted from the oil-rich country for the coffers of the Aliyevs.
    The Aliyev regime doesn’t believe in the freedom of speech and has jailed journalists and activists.
    Due to corruption and incompetence, the Azeri economy is hurting thus forcing the government to devalue–several times–the manat this year.
    For more than 20 years Aliyev has waged war against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh and has violated the ceasefire thousands of times every month.
    The Aliyev regime has spent on weapons more than the total annual state budget of Armenia. What Azerbaijan doesn’t need is more arms.
    Ottawa should put a stop to the unseemly weapons sale. Azerbaijan’s arsenal is already brimming with Russian, Turkish, Israeli, Ukrainian, and Belarus weapons.
    A few weeks ago the Hungarian media revealed that Azerbaijan was using its commercial airline to ship arms to Islamic terrorists in several countries. Azeris–including women–have fought as part of the ISIS armies.
    More arms to Aliyev will encourage him to further aggression. Canada should maintain its peace-making policy and cancel the weapons deal.