The Government of Canada has announced the name of the ambassador who will lead a new embassy in Armenia, in the midst of the escalating military conflict in neighboring Azerbaijan.
Andrew Turner, a career diplomat, will be posted to the capital Yerevan starting next month, as the Liberals attempt to forge closer ties with countries moving away from Russia’s orbit.
Mr. Turner’s experience primarily involves postings in the Middle East, although he has also helped shape Ottawa’s response to tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Canada has a large Armenian diaspora and the Liberals have made it a point to raise Armenia-related issues in the House of Commons.
In April 2022, Ambassador to the European Union Stéphane Dion, who is a former foreign minister, released a report on how Canada can better support Armenia’s “fragile” democracy.
The report, released weeks after Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine, says that country’s commitment to democracy is an example for other former Soviet states.
We can read that supporting Ukraine also means intensifying efforts to advance democracy in the region.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced in June 2022 that Canada would finally open a new embassy. His office argued that an embassy would help expand Ottawa’s knowledge of the Caucasus region, while helping foreigners obtain visas and Canadians obtain passport services.
The news comes as Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, said Azerbaijan could undertake “ethnic cleansing” of Armenians in its Nagorno-Karabakh region.
This region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it is populated by approximately 120,000 Armenians. Azerbaijan and Armenia have been fighting over control of the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Tensions rose in the region a year ago when the main access road was blocked, leading to months of food and medicine shortages that groups such as Human Rights Watch blame on Azerbaijan.
Last week, Azerbaijan unleashed heavy artillery fire on separatist militias and reportedly killed dozens of people, raising fears of all-out war. But a ceasefire was declared within 24 hours, and Azerbaijan says it wants to integrate Armenians into its country as “equal citizens”.
A mass evacuation is underway, with thousands of ethnic Armenians fleeing to Armenia. Some tell media they fear further military escalation in the region or political repression if they move to other parts of Azerbaijan, which Freedom House describes as authoritarian and corrupt.
Mr Rae said on Monday on X, formerly Twitter, that the evacuation represented “a complete failure of global diplomacy in the face of ethnic cleansing”.
Ms. Joly has issued statements calling on Azerbaijan to stop escalating tensions, and the NDP has called on her to begin imposing sanctions on officials there.
“Canada must make it clear unequivocally that the international community will not tolerate this conduct,” we read in a letter signed by MPs Heather McPherson and Alexandre Boulerice last Friday.
Canada does not currently have embassies in either country, with matters relating to Azerbaijan handled by diplomats stationed in Turkey, and a consulate having been opened in Armenia last year reporting to diplomats in Moscow .
This article is originally published on canadafrancais.com