maandag 9 februari 2015

Shipyard Damen wants to build for Azerbaijan

Photo: Kommer Damen of Damen Shipyards talking with president Aliyev of Azerbaijan at WEF in Davos source

Dutch Damen Shipyards considers building military naval vessels for Azerbaijan, a country that is involved in an arms race with neighboring Armenia.
Mid Janauary, Kommer Damen CEO and owner of Damen Shipyards visited the WorldEconomic Forum in Davos to strengthen cooperation with Azerbaijan. He met the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev personally to discuss construction of military and civilian vessels and ships for unspecified government tasks, reports Trend News Agency.

In September 2014, arms fair ADEX was organised in Azeerbaijan. One observer noted: "There seem to have been a lot of shipbuilders and navy-related companies at ADEX; Dutch shipbuilder Damen was the "platinum sponsor" of the show and Chinese and Turkish shipbuilders also exhibited, suggesting they think there is naval business to be had in Azerbaijan." It seems the assumption was correct.
Azerbaijan borders the Caspian Sea in the turbulent Caucasus. It is currently engaged in an arms race with neighboring Armenia. The Bonn International Center for Conversion stated in a report that Armenia and Azerbaijan belong to the ten most militarized countries in the world. Armenia ranks third, a higher position than even Syria.
In 2013, Armenia's military expenditure reached the amount of 427 million dollars. Azerbaijan spent $ 3.4 billion in the same year on the military. In Armenia about 4 percent of the Gross National Product was spent on defense, in Azerbaijan 4.7 percent. Compared with other European countries this is significant. On top of imports Azerbaijan boosted its own arms production substantially.

Scientific research indicates that countries in a potential conflict area which buy huge amounts of weapons have a bigger chance to get at war with each other. And with Azerbaijan and Armenia, conflict is never far away; allthough there is a ceasefire since the war of 1994, throughout 2014 a total of 72 people were killed on both sides. 

Human Rights Watch states in its annual report for 2014 Human Rights Watch states that: "The Azerbaijani government’s poor record on freedom of expression, assembly, and association dramatically deteriorated during the year. This crackdown was the backdrop for the October 2013 presidential election, in which incumbent President Ilham Aliyev was re-elected for a third term with 84.5 percent of the vote.” 

At the same time the Dutch branch of Amnesty International launched a campaign for the release of two Azeri human rights activists, Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif, who were arrested last year on charges of treason and fraud. According to Amnesty, the charges were made up to silence the activists in the run-up to the first edition of the European Games next summer.  

Meanwhile, the largest arms exporter in the Netherlands, Kommer Damen, visits the Azerbaijani President in Davos to discuss military production. Not only from a human rights point of view is this irrsponsible, but also because of the tense situation in the region. Control based on the arms export regulatuons an easy task. Damen Shipyards Group is a company that operates in 18 countries and has 35 shipyards and builds complete warships in Asia, the America's, Africa and other parts of Europe. The latest of its foreign operations is the licensing of its vessel designs to Louisiana boat-builder Metal Shark Aluminum Boats. Because of this internationalisation it will be easy to circumvent the Dutch arms export guidelines. 
Thales Nederland, another prominent Dutch arms exporter, once said that is will not bite the hand which feeds it. For Damen, a significant part of its 'food' is provided by the Dutch government in the form of purchasing naval vessels and export support when selling them abroad. Damen for example knows very well how to use the of attractive Dutch export credit guarantees and Oret Miliev development grants. In the case of Azerbaijan, let's hope the Dutch government will warn Damen not to sell military vessels, instead of giving its support.
Written for Stop Wapenhandel Dutch version see Ravage Webzine