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Azerbaijan’s military success leaves Armenians clashing with one another

Now Armenia must confront itself.

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By JOSH FRIEDMAN

YEREVAN, Armenia — The tables turned on Armenians dramatically overnight as Monday, Nov. 9 faded into Tuesday, Nov. 10. Armenians went from being at war with archenemy Azerbaijan to engaged in a domestic conflict with one another. 

Azerbaijan had just shot down a Russian helicopter in southern Armenia near the border with the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan. The downing of the chopper would surely anger Moscow, and it could be the moment in which Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia, would finally come to the aid of its ally fighting a month and a half-long war with Azerbaijan. 

But it was not meant to be for Armenia. A ceasefire deal that would bring an end to the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war was essentially in place. Rather than reacting the way it did when Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane over Turkey’s border with Syria in 2015, Moscow quietly accepted an apology from Azerbaijan and pressed on with the deal it brokered to bring an end to the war. 

Shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced in a Facebook post Armenia had reached a Russian-brokered truce with Azerbaijan. Pashinyan called the agreement painful. Enraged Armenians called Pashinyan a traitor for agreeing to the truce. 

Then in the middle of the night, protesters stormed the Armenian parliament, trashed Pashinyan’s office and violently beat the parliament’s speaker. 

Protests have continued in Yerevan over the past week, with demonstrators demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. Now, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian is also calling for Pashinyan to resign and for new parliamentary elections to be held.

The violence has subsided, though some members of the opposition have been arrested and finger-pointing continues. The mood in Armenia is both angry and somber.

During a protest in Yerevan on Wednesday, a grieving mother stood with a photo of her son and described receiving the news he had died in the war. 

“At 11 we set the table. Then between 3 a.m. until 7 a.m. the firing started. My husband was in tears saying, ‘the kid is gone; he was killed,’” the mother said.

The woman said she does not know whether Pashinyan, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) President Arayik Harutyunyan or someone else is to blame for her son’s death.

“Some say it’s Nikol; others say it’s someone else. Arayik called on us to fight. My son went to war. He went as a volunteer,” the grieving mother said. 

Everyone has an opinion as to who is responsible for his death, the woman said. 

While many Armenian parents are coping with the loss of their sons, many Armenian families are, too, dealing with the loss of their homes. The defeat on the battlefield translates into a loss of territory for ethnic Armenians. 

Azerbaijan is reclaiming control of several districts within its internationally-recognized borders that had been controlled by Armenians since the conclusion of the first Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994. Russian peacekeeping troops have already arrived to enforce the terms of the truce, which include Armenia allowing the construction of a corridor through its territory that will connect Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan proper. A new road is also expected to be built through an existing corridor to ensure the continued connection between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. 

With the process of handing over territories to Azerbaijan underway, many Armenians have resorted to burning down their own homes to prevent Azeris from living in them. Additionally, Armenians have been saying final goodbyes to treasured cultural sights, like monasteries. 

Forward Russian operating base. Photo by Josh Friedman

The military victory for Azerbaijan is largely seen as a successful embrace of modern warfare. Azerbaijan’s use of Turkish and Israeli-built drones contributed significantly to the destruction of Armenian military equipment and the wearing down of Armenia’s defenses over the 44 days of fighting. 

With the war ongoing, the Western Standard was shown an area in Armenia proper where clashes had taken place. Near a road leading to Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian soldier boasted of shooting down a drone with his gun. However, two destroyed Scud missiles and missile launchers were seen lying in the area. Azeri forces had reportedly taken them out with drones. The sight was a sign of the direction the war was headed.

Despite Azerbaijan’s territorial advances over several weeks, Armenia’s government remained tight-lipped about the faltering of ethnic Armenian forces until the very end of the war. The subsequent shock among Armenians added to the anger and frustration at the announcement of the ceasefire deal.

Destroyed SCUD launcher. Photo by Josh Friedman

Before the announcement of the ceasefire, Azeri forces had taken control of the crucial and historic city of Shusha, or Shushi in Armenia. Azerbaijan could then have mounted an offensive on the nearby and exposed de facto capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, from which thousands of Armenian civilians were fleeing. Additionally, Azeri forces could have attempted to take the Lachin Corridor, known as being the supply line between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. But Armenian military officials advised Pashinyan to stop the bloodshed and accept the truce, which he did. 

The 44-day war killed a total of more than 2,300 Armenian servicemen. Azerbaijan did not release its military casualties, though an estimate given by Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the total at more than 2,000. Additionally, several dozen Azeri and Armenian civilians died in the war. For Armenia, a country of just 3 million people, the losses were viewed as very high. 

During the war, Azerbaijan enjoyed the strong backing of its ally Turkey, while Russia refrained from playing an active role in supporting Armenia. Many Armenians felt let down by Russia. 

Now Armenia must confront itself. The country had been transitioning to a more open, western-style system of government under Pashinyan, who came to power following a revolution he led in 2018. Russia now appears to have punished Armenia for its political transition of the past two years. 

So after suffering military defeat, will Armenia continue on its path of democratization, economic reform and rooting out corruption, or might that become yet another casualty of the war? For Armenia, what was a war with a neighbor or neighbors has turned into an internal struggle over the direction of the country.

Friedman is a freelance reporter who covered the war for the Western Standard

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Maskless teen student with asthma ostracized at Calgary Catholic school

“Kids in my class called me an ‘outsider’ which made me feel worse than I already felt,” said 14-year-old Darius.

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A Calgary Catholic school has segregated and since banned a student from attending school for not wearing a mask, says the student’s parents.

And before that, teachers had even taped off an area around the boy’s desk “like a crime scene.”

Darius Lynn, a Grade 9 student at St. Helena Junior High School in Calgary, suffers from asthma and was permitted to go maskless at his desk during the 2020-2021 school year.

When Darius returned to St. Helena for the 2021-2022 school year, without his parents’ knowledge, he was advised he would be required to wear a mask full time.

He complied for the first few months but eventually reported to his parents in late November he was struggling to breathe while wearing the mask.

“I had no idea he was told to wear a mask again this year,” Darius’ mother Stephanie told the Western Standard.

“My husband and I just assumed he wasn’t needing to wear a mask again this year.”

Stephanie said she and her husband Paul reached out to the new principal and Darius’ teachers to request they allow their son the same exemption as the previous year.

They were told he would need a doctor’s note, which Stephanie said they have been unable to acquire.

“Mask exemptions are impossible to get,” said Stephanie.

“Right now, doctors are just too scared to write them.”

Stephanie said the school’s solution was to, “move my son’s desk into the hallway.”

Darius also spoke with the Western Standard and said the teenagers in his class referred to him as an “outsider” after he was moved into the hallway.

“When they did group projects, they would just send me to the library and I had to work on my own,” said Darius.  

“Kids in my class called me an ‘outsider’ which made me feel worse than I already felt.”

Stephanie said she and her husband tried to appeal to the principal, but “she wouldn’t budge,” so they reached out to the superintendent.

“We begged for her to let Darius back into the classroom but he ended up sitting out there for two weeks where he was discriminated against and basically ridiculed so we contacted the superintendent,” said Stephanie.

Stephanie said she emailed Chief Superintendent Bryan Szumlas with the Catholic School Board who helped the Lynns get their son moved back into his classroom.

“So, he was moved back into the classroom, which was good, but what we didn’t know was that his teachers taped off the floor around his desk like a crime scene,” said Stephanie.

“After they put tape on the floor around my desk, some of the kids in my class would step past the tape and pretend they couldn’t breathe,” said Darius, explaining the teasing he endured.

Darius said his teachers had witnessed some of the teasing, but said, “most of the time the teachers didn’t do anything about it.

“They (teachers) also made me wait a few minutes before I could move to my next class because there were basically a bunch of students in the halls.”

“It was just awful what they were doing to him. They were treating him like a walking disease and visibly segregating him,” said Stephanie.

Stephanie said Darius had to stay within his taped boundaries for about a week until Christmas break.

“After the break, the principal notified us that Darius wouldn’t be welcome back if he wasn’t willing to wear a mask,” said Stephanie.

“In fact, one of the communications with the school referred to his asthma as his ‘apparent asthma’ like we were making it up or something.

“They said he could move to the online schooling system or do their D2L system from home,” said Stephanie referring to a web-based learning system offered throughout the school division.

“He doesn’t do well online so we are just trying to do the best we can. He’s in Grade 9, he should be able to be with his peers to finish off his last year in middle school.”

Darius said he has mixed feelings about not returning to school.

“I’m just really upset that I don’t get to see my friends anymore, but I also feel like I have less distractions at home,” said Darius.

Stephanie said it’s been a hard year for Darius as he also had to walk away from community hockey due to the vaccination mandates and additional costs associated with frequent rapid testing.

“He is totally destroyed,” said Stephanie.

The Lynns have two other sons — both attending Notre Dame High School — one in Grade 11 who is special needs and one in Grade 12.

“The real kicker for us is that we have a special needs son who has never worn a mask, doesn’t social distance and we have never been required to show a doctor’s note for him,” said Stephanie.

“They have totally humiliated my son and I’m angry. We just want our son to be treated with dignity and compassion. He has lost hockey because of the mandates and now he isn’t allowed to go to school.”

The family has since been referred to Area Director Deana Helton with regard to their son’s situation.

The Western Standard has contacted the school principal along with Helton but hasn’t heard back yet.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter with the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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Copping strikes EMS advisory committee amid system strains, red alerts

The Alberta Provincial EMS Advisory Committee will provide recommendations on a provincial EMS service plan by May.

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Health Minister Jason Copping has appointed MLAs R.J. Sigurdson (Highwood) and Tracy Allard (Grande Prairie) to co-chair a new EMS committee to address “unprecedented” demands on the healthcare system.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is also rolling out a 10-point plan to maximize EMS system capacity.

The government listed many aggravating factors driving the system strains including “EMS staffing fatigue and illness, hospital offload delays, more requests for patient transfers, delays in receiving new ambulances and specialized vehicle parts caused by global supply issues.”

The province has seen a plethora of “red alerts” reported by EMS members and tweeted by the Union of Health Care Professionals @HSAAlbertaEMS. A red alert is when there are no available ambulances for emergency calls.

The government also reported a 30% increase in 911 calls in recent months. There was no mention of personnel shortages caused by the government’s COVID-19 mandate.

“Alberta’s government has been supportive of EMS throughout the pandemic. As we approach the peak of Omicron cases, we know the EMS system is seeing significant strain, which impacts service. We recognize this is a challenge and are taking immediate steps to improve emergency care access while we explore longer-term solutions,” said Copping.

AHS will immediately hire more paramedics, transfer low-priority calls to other agencies, and stop automatic ambulance dispatch to motor vehicle accidents with no injuries. AHS is also “launching pilot projects to manage non-emergency inter-facility transfers, and initiating an ‘hours of work’ project to help ease staff fatigue.”

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of AHS is confident these actions “will allow us to better support our EMS staff and front-line paramedics, and in turn this will ensure our patients receive the best care possible.”

Additionally, AHS will issue a request for proposals in February to conduct a third-party review of Alberta’s provincewide EMS dispatch system.

“The objective review by external health system experts will provide further opportunities to address ongoing pressures, improve effectiveness and efficiency through best practices, and provide the best outcomes for Albertans who call 911 during a medical event,” the government said.

The Alberta Provincial EMS Advisory Committee will provide recommendations on a provincial EMS service plan by May. Committee representatives include “contracted ambulance operators, unions representing paramedics, municipal representatives and Indigenous community representatives.”

Sigurdson said the committee will consider taxpayers’ needs.

“Albertans expect that when they call 911 in their time of greatest need, EMS will always answer. The committee’s goal will be focused around ensuring and improving service to Albertans while supporting the most critical piece of that equation: our EMS staff across all of Alberta.”

Amber Gosselin is a Western Standard reporter.
agosselin@westernstandardonline.com

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WATCH: O’Toole will not be welcoming the truckers in Ottawa

“It’s not for the leader of the Opposition to attend a protest on the Hill or a convoy, it’s up to politicians to advocate for solutions, in a way that’s responsible and respectable to the health crisis we are in.”

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Conservative leader Erin O’Toole was asked six times during a Monday press conference about his stance on the truckers Freedom Convoy 2022, before giving a vague answer.

“We have been talking with the Canadian Trucking Alliance for several months,” said O’Toole told reports.

“We’ve seen a crisis in the supply chain coming for several months and we’ve proposed policies to try to help alleviate that. The most important of which is vaccines. We encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”

O’Toole press conference

Other specific. questions on the truckers’ comments were left with vague answers.

But the end of the conference O’Toole said it’s not his place to get involved.

“It’s not for the leader of the Opposition to attend a protest on the Hill or a convoy — it’s up to politicians to advocate for solutions, in a way that’s responsible and respectable to the health crisis we are in,” O’Toole said.

“We’ve been trying to tackle the supply chain crisis, encourage vaccination, not ignore problems and divide the country like Mr. (Justin) Trudeau does.”

O’Toole said policies cannot be put in place which could contribute to supply chain issues, as Canadians are already worried about their grocery bills.

O’Toole said he was focused on the economic strain Canadians are having, with record inflation, cost of living, 30% higher gas prices and the housing market’s rising costs,.

Ewa Sudyk is a reporter with the Western Standard
esudyk@westernstandardonline.com

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