YEREVAN — Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly was in Armenia on Wednesday, October 25 for the long-awaited official inauguration of her country’s diplomatic mission to Yerevan. According to an official communique from her office, her presence in the South Caucasus country was meant to signal “stronger bilateral ties and increased Canadian support to Armenian democracy.”
Following a visit to the Armenian Genocide memorial, Joly met with both the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Vahagn Khachaturyan with whom she discussed the strengthening of bilateral relations, as well as the humanitarian situation resulting from the ethnic cleansing of over 100,000 indigenous Armenians from Artsakh following Azerbaijan’s September 19 attack on the region.
Accompanied by Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, Joly made her way to the Yerevan Plaza office building where the new Canadian embassy is located. She then helped raise the Canadian flag outside the building, surrounded by a delegation of Canadian-Armenians and incoming Canadian Ambassador Andrew Turner. “You can continue to believe not only in my support, but also the government’s support and that of my country as a whole in this important relationship between Canada and Armenia,” Joly told those present at the embassy.
After many years of lobbying from the Canadian-Armenian community, Ottawa finally decided to upgrade its diplomatic relationship with Yerevan following the destructive 2020 Artsakh War, which indirectly caused a scandal in Canada following the revelation that Canadian-developed technology was used by Azerbaijani forces during their attack on Artsakh. The L3 Harris WESCAM CMX-15D optical targeting system, produced in Burlington, Ontario, was discovered by the Armenian military to have been fitted to Turkish-produced Bayraktar BT-2 attack drones used by Azerbaijani forces to devastating effect. Canada had officially sanctioned Turkish defense contractors the previous year over their use in attacking Kurdish civilian targets in Syria.
This scandal, as well as Canada’s shifting priorities in the region following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent downgrade in the Canadian embassy in Moscow’s responsibilities led to a rethinking of Ottawa’s relationship with the only fledgling democracy in the region. These events triggered a commission led by Canada’s ambassador to the European Union Stephane Dion which eventually culminated in the “In support of democracy in Armenia” report which recommended, among other things, the opening of a Canadian embassy in Yerevan.
With total bilateral trade totaling some $25.2 million in 2020, Canada has long been one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Armenia, particularly in the mining, high tech and biomedical sectors. The embassy is expected, in part, to continue to explore avenues for mutually beneficial economic cooperation, as well as to support Armenia’s fledgling democracy. During her visit, Canada’s top diplomat also expressed her country’s support for Armenia’s territorial integrity and, referring to the threat of sanctions against Azerbaijan, reiterated that “everything is on the table.” This sentiment was also supported by Canadian Members of Parliament Lindsay Mathyssen and Stephane Bergeron, who accompanied her on the trip. Both their respective parties, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, have called for sanctions against Azerbaijan following its invasion of Nagorno Karabakh in mid-september. Melanie also pledged several million dollars in aid for refugees from Artsakh before continuing her visit to the town of Jermuk, lying just 5 km. away from the farthest Azerbaijani incursion into Armenia’s sovereign territory.