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Canadians Run Amok in Azerbaijan

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Issue: 47 Section: Foreign Policy Geography: Central Asia Azerbaijan Topics: Mining

August 2, 2007

Canadians Run Amok in Azerbaijan

Mining, oil undermines central Asian diplomacy and trade

by Kristian Gravenor

Pedestrians in Azerbaijan's capitol and largest city, Baku. Photo: Kristian Gravenor

When Jean Chretien retired as prime minister after a decade running Canada, he did not go to Disneyland. Instead, he visited a place seldom visited by American tourists. He hopped on a flight to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, a former Soviet Republic populated by nomadic desert tribes.

Turkmenistan is also home to sensitive post-Soviet territorial disputes, the most delicate of which is its claims to oil under the Caspian Sea. For years, the country has been slowly working towards an agreement with its Caspian-side neighbours –- mainly Azerbaijan -- over where to draw territorial boundaries and how to divide those resources.

In the midst of this delicate situation, the seasoned Canadian statesman jetted in as a lobbyist for Roger Haines's Buried Hill Energy, an Alberta-based company that was hoping to help Turkmenistan extract oil beneath the Caspian Sea.

While the high-profile lobbying barely made the back pages in Canada, the image of a longtime G-8 leader meddling in the fragile negotiations laid a wallop to the process. Chretien departed Turkmenistan after a few handshakes, but he left behind a regional diplomatic chill. Only now, two years later, has the process of determining the regional boundaries started inching forward again.

One might imagine that the Alberta oil company storming in to sensitive, decade-spanning negotiations might have broken a rule or regulation somewhere. But there are no Canadian rules when it comes to our companies extracting abroad. As industry watchdog Karen Keenan of The Halifax Initiative explains, "The Canadian government doesn't have any policy statement or regulatory oversight of how it expects Canadian mining companies to operate overseas. It's a total policy vacuum."

The area in red is currently occupied by Armenia, and has become a deserted zone, its Azeri inhabitants displaced. Canadian mining operations in the occupied zone have angered Azerbaijan.

When it comes to mining and oil exploration abroad, Canada not only turns a blind eye to the corporate weekend in Vegas, but it often also supplies the poker chips.

"The Canadian government provides a myriad of forms of support for these companies," says Keenan, "but we and many others are saying that the Canadian government shouldn't be promoting these companies; instead they should look at them and make sure they're following standards."

The misadventure in Turkmenistan might also have cost Canadians jobs.

Azerbaijan -- which, thanks to rising oil prices, has suddenly emerged as one of the world's hottest economies --was unhappy when Canada's former leader doubted its territorial sovereignty.

Recently, according to one highly-placed source, Canada went to bat for a Canadian jet manufacturer bidding on a fat contract to supply the Azerbaijan government with jet aircraft. The would-be Azeri buyers politely reminded the Canadians of the Turkmenistan affair.

The Azerbaijanis weren't buying from Canada.

It wasn't the first time that Canada's laissez-faire approach to mining and exploration needlessly irritated the fast-modernizing former Soviet republic, which has often cited Canada as a model for its post-Soviet democracy.

The Azerbaijanis also claim that controversial Canadian miner Robert "Toxic Bob" Friedland has been mining on parts of Azerbaijan now controlled by the Armenian army. An international gold-mining tycoon, Friedland got his nickname after he tried to sell LSD to an undercover agent in Maine in 1969. He retained the moniker after a string of his South American mining operations left a wake of environmental disasters and mass protests, including a spill of three billion litres of cyanide-contaminated wastewater in Guyana in 1995.

Azerbaijani officials referred to satellite evidence that Friedland, whose mine-now-think-later policies have caused a stir in many countries, set up the Zod gold mine in the western regions of Azerbaijan.

The area is within a conflict zone where one million Azerbaijanis were expelled in 1992.

The Armenian army currently controls the area and many Azeris see the presence of Canadian miners on the spot where Azeri residents were ethnically cleansed as immensely hurtful and insensitive.

Legally, Canada can do nothing to discipline such mining and oil companies. There is, however, hope that Canuck miners might soon lose their international license to misbehave.

Last year in Canada, the Government Roundtable on Extractive Industries resulted in an unprecedented agreement between a wide-range of socially conscious do-gooders and the oil and mining industries.

In March, an impressive coalition of industry and citizen groups signed the document that would set standards on how Canadian mining corporations should operate abroad.

Although the system is toothless -- the mining companies balked at fining rule breakers -- civil groups hope that the agreement will be enshrined in law this fall and that fines for corporate mining misbehaviour will eventually follow.

Keenan is optimistic that the federal government will soon make the deal law.

"We've got mining, oil and gas companies behind this agreement, Canadian civil society, faith-based organizations, labour unions, environmental NGOs, human rights groups; they're all backing it. We've never had this kind of consensus before."

And there's hope that other Canadians can pick up the slack and help foster the sort of positive trade in Azerbaijan that Canadians can be proud of.

Ottawa entrepreneur Grant Thomas, who has visited the Caucasus half a dozen times, sees Azerbaijan's rocketing economy as having potential for more than morally dubious mining by opportunistic Canadian entrepreneurs.

"If we can mobilize the time and the attention, there are some niche areas in which Canadian companies in Canada could become a leader in Azerbaijan," he says.

Thomas's baby is called a Regional Innovation Zone, a conception that would accelerate the possibility of Canadian technology reaching Azerbaijan. He sees Canada working with Azerbaijan on such things as satellite seismic mapping and environmental clean-up technologies.

Other Canadian initiatives fostering a different kind of relationship with Azerbaijan includes the Digital Opportunity Trust, an Ottawa NGO that aims to bring computers to countries where they're scarce. Alberta businessman Donn Lovett tells the Dominion that he was enthusiastically received in a trade mission to the country.

Meanwhile, Karen Keenan hopes that one day soon, Maple Leaf miners will no longer be able to undermine Canada's reputation and interests abroad. "The Canadian government is finally saying that maybe we should revisit our rules to see if our standards are high enough to bring us real benefits."

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Comments

Canadians Run Amok in Azerbaijan

In your mad rush to assign blame to perceived wrongdoings of some Canadian companies. you get your facts fundamentally wrong regarding events in Artsakh aka Nagorno karabagh.
Mountainous artsakh is but a small potion of larger area that has been inhabited by Armenians for more than two millennia. They have been persecuted throughout their history by various invadors such mongols, turks, persians and soviets and treated with such brutality and genocidal behavior that your canadian mind will have much difficulty in its comprehension.
I know this does doesn't fit neatly into your narrative of armenians ethnic cleansing of azeri turks. I would highly recommend you invest a little time and study history of this region before you start writing more articles about this subject.

Sense of Proportion

Kristian strikes me as a little naive. If she was familar with entreprneurs, Canadian or others, she would think twice about publishing as fact their views that yet another market is "about to launch" and her friendly entrepreneur is the only one who sees it coming and is positioning. They thrive on the streets of Baku and generate vast quantities of this hype as a byproduct of the enthusiasms that drive them.

As for an NGO building bridges into Aerbaijan to introduce computers - I'm flabbergasted. Easily 25% of the NGOs in AZ - and that is no small number - have identical programmes. One more will not distinguish Canadaian industry in the eyes of the Azeris. Where is your sense of proportion, Kristian?

Let me say clearly that I do not belittle the work of either NGOs or entrepreneurs, having much in common with both. The discerning reader, though, should recognise what Kristian's article does not: finding any arbitrary success story does not make a robust alternative to international mining or exploration. What is the connection? Weak at the very best.

I am not a Canadian, but I have been impressed with how the Canadian consulates and embassies in Central Asia promote Canadian medium and small companies to the local business community. This contrasts to other governments who often only promote the companies that fund the party in power and ignore the small players and local business community. Good for Canada!

I began to cool on Kristain when fact faded to opinion and the sophmoric innuendo that miners are bad people and do evil work everywhere they go. Really, Kristian! You write like a propagandist discussing pop celebrities not a current events journalist. Give us some substance.

Thanks for the article.

A factual reporting by Kristian Gravenor

It is not very common to come across a broad-in-content, well-researched and factual article on such complex topics spanning from one known corner of the world (Canada) to another lesser-known corner (Azerbaijan). After reading this article I wished there were many journalists like Kristian reporting from the "front line" of international issues. As a proud Canadian with roots from Central Asia, and over 20 years of traveling to & living on four continents, I can closely relate to this article. I am further delighted to hear of a system of standards being worked out for Canadian companies functioning abroad. This would greatly improve Canada's effectives and image, similar to the laws prohibiting use of child labour by Canadian companies. The same goes with enforcing responsible environmental practices at home and anywhere in the global village. Kristian, thank you for raising the plight of over one million displaced Azerbaijanis from their ancestral homes and lands by Armenian military forces, now for over 15 years! There are indeed at least half dozen of UN and other international organizations Resolutions calling for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from all occupied regions of Azerbaijan.

Kristian, I wished you were on the ground in Hojali town of Azerbaijan in 1992 when acts of genocide were committed by Armenians over-night against the defenceless population of this town. There are still thousands of children with bleeding hearts and tearful eyes from unjust occupation of Azerbaijani territory by Armenia.

I hope to see more of such coverage on these topics in the Canadian media. Thank you, Dominion!

Partnering with Armenia in Ethnic Crimes

As a Turkish-Canadian, I am not surprised what i read here. (and of course not with Armenian reader's comments above).

Azeri and Turks in Canada sees the hypocracy in gov't policies: in the bottom line, Armenians did 4 terrorist attacks in Canada against Turkish targets (see: ASALA and JCAG in Terror Databases), killing few Turks, and Canadian nationals. Some of the terrorist arrested and got light terms, some of them got Canadian passport using the time spent in trials, some of them never caught!...

Today, we have just passed 25th anniversary of killing of Turkish Military Attache Col.Altikat in Ottawa (27-Aug-82) by JCAG. The killers are still at large!.

The only knowns about this massacre is: done by JCAG.
Please google this name, JCAG: you will find that it is the military arm of ARF Dashnaksutyun. (It is the same ARF that has local TVs in Canada, that has para-military "youth camps" in Canada, and is the small partner in Armenian Government!)

Anyway, if we come back to Karabakh connection, the other Armenian terror organization ASALA worked hard to force the native Azeri people out brutally and ethnically cleaning of Karabakh. Just google the name "Monte Melkonian", leader of ASALA, after escaping (?) French jail for planning an attack to a Turkish tour boat in Marseille, commanded the massacres in Karabakh, and has now "national hero" status in Armenia. You'll be surprised that Armenia opens schools after his name.

Oh by the way, watch your donations to AGBU Montreal, they re-populate the invaded parts of Azerbaijan with Armenian people. Offering poor people $15,000 to settle and to partner in crime against humanity...

What Canadian government is doing? : Last few years Busy with passing "genocide resolutions" and "day of mournings" in all of its provincial, municipal, federal parliaments, but 100 yrs after the tragedies happened!.

Interesting eh?

For more information and an example of violations of Human Rights in Canada: read the article of Armenian writer "Line Abrahamian"s ReadersDigest column in October 2006 issue, available online: "Why I hate Turks?"...

Image of Canada

We dont hear a lot about small countries as Azerbaijan but the article gives us a quick briefing on the rising economy and its conflict with Armenia. Its disturbing to hear that Canadian companies are involved in the occupied areas of Azerbaijan, this might look innocent at first sight but in time it could ruin the image of Canada.

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