2021 March 21

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Daily news wrap-up

Mar/21/2021 news: (1) Pashinyan speech: negotiations, fighter jets, incitement of murder, traitor-talk, casualties, conflict status, regional trade, puppet judges, Levon & Serj, copper & oil (2) Education reforms: functional literacy, teacher training, rural aid (3) US agency criticizes Azerbaijan
by ar_david_hh

Your 17-minute weekend report in 4175 words.

Pashinyan visits Aragatsotn Province

The Premier launched a trip to several settlements on Saturday. He met locals and families of soldiers who died in the war. He gave a speech, part of which you'll find below.

Meeting residents: https://youtu.be/6BWs1XZ0sV4

https://youtu.be/gxawAK7fq0k , https://youtu.be/SY2zP_T8aAQ


Pashinyan addresses accusations of not using opportunities to settle the conflict:

During a Parliament session in April 2018, Serj Sargsyan admitted that the negotiation process had stalled because Azerbaijan had unrealistic expectations which were unacceptable to us. This is on video. You can watch it.

What were we [Pashinyan administration] supposed to do? Accept Azerbaijan's "unacceptable demands"? Were we supposed to continue the process of returning Karabakh as being part of Azerbaijan?

When Serj Sargsyan said "Artsakh will never be part of Azerbaijan", people were wondering why he was saying that. He knew very well where he lead the negotiation process to, but others didn't, because it was a closed process.

Yet within one week of me becoming Prime Minister, they were already accusing me of coming to give away lands. Why? Because they knew the direction they lead the negotiations process to.


Pashinyan about Russia as an ally:

Russia, Armenia's strategic partner, fully fulfilled its allied obligations during the war. I say this unequivocally.

But there is one important detail here: we have long attributed to Russia certain allied obligations that it does not actually have. Russia, as the backbone of the former USSR, has obligations to both Armenia and post-Soviet countries, including Azerbaijan.

The situation was as such in Syunik, that Armenia was on the brink of the second wave of war, and we had to stay where we were. We stopped the war at a time when it was impossible to go forward, to avoid unnecessary casualties. [He is referring to the deployment of Russian troops on Syunik borders during the war. Earlier he said the post-war clarification of Syunik borders will allow Russian troops to legally execute the security agreement with Armenia if necessary.]

Pashinyan about the purchase of Russian SU-30 fighter jets:

The opposition criticizes us for purchasing the Su-30 jets. The jets arrived in May. We didn't have time to purchase the missiles. Had the opposition purchased the jets [during their time of governance], we would have time to purchase the missiles. How could a country with 26 years of independence not have such fighter aviation?

How come you have fighter mansions in Paris and Baden-Baden, fighter hotels, fighter Swiss accounts.

Why did our army have an underwear shortage while you were claiming to support the military?


Pashinyan about the number of casualties and missing soldiers:

As of today, there are officially confirmed 3250 deaths, with 189 DNA results pending. We have a large list of missing soldiers, but that list should be clarified because, in the past few months alone, 10 people from that list were caught attempting to fly from Zvartnots airport, or under other circumstances.

We already have many deaths. There is no need to politicize this topic further by claiming there are 2-4x as many deaths. [referring to opposition figures who claim without evidence that there are 5,500 deaths]

If nothing else happens [and soldiers aren't found alive], the number of deaths won't cross 4,000. This is a very big number, too. They died so Artsakh can live.


Pashinyan about Artsakh conflict's status:

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not been resolved, regardless of how many times the Azeri government states otherwise. You may wonder why our boys died fighting, then. I want to answer this clearly: our boys died because when the President of Azerbaijan announces today that the Karabakh issue is resolved, we can say that the Karabakh issue is not resolved. Because that was Azerbaijan's plan, to ensure that no Armenian physically remains in Karabakh.

But Artsakh exists today and Artsakh Armenians live there, thanks to our fallen soldiers. Yes, we went through a bitter war, but I want to state that what we have today is because of our boys.


Pashinyan addresses accusation of being a traitor:

For the past 5 months, various circles and many people have been accusing me of treason. Where was the treason?

They accuse us of giving away the lands, and at the same time of not giving away the lands. The war was stopped when it made no sense to continue. We stopped to avoid a larger catastrophe.

They say "the traitor government must leave". Question: what will change after the government leaves? The document signed by us is cruel, but what are they going to do? Tear and throw it away? They say "no, that would be a catastrophe"... then not signing it would have been a bigger catastrophe.

We need to examine the reasons for the defeat along with all the war episodes starting from the negotiation process.


Pashinyan about the issues in the judicial branch:

The primary problem today is the courts. We gave freedom and independence to the judges after them being unable to act freely for 20 years.

Yet some of them took advantage of it and ran back to their old owners, to serve their needs. They will be punished.


Pashinyan about the incitement of violence by opposition figures:

You are aware of how the government was attacked, and the rhetoric that was used. I know that many of you have questions and complaints, but I want to draw your attention to the unprecedented fact that we managed to avoid civil clashes during the post-war confrontation that lasted for 5 months.

There are aggressive forces in Armenia, the aggression of which is growing day by day, but thanks to the people it was possible to avoid civil clashes. And this is in the context of the fact that some people are calling for direct acts of terrorism and murder.

Some courts are encouraging these incitements of murder by releasing the suspects after their arrest. The question is, why are there such judges in Armenia? We need to address that.

When we stood in front of you during the 2018 revolution, we promised that we wouldn't do mass layoffs and vendettas. We said that everyone will have a chance to contribute, and we stayed true to our promise.

Politically this was a big mistake on our part, but morally we couldn't break our promise. Our revolution was based on Christian values; there is no exaggeration in this.

It is obvious now that many have crossed that border. This is the problem we are facing. Under today's conditions, there are people who want blood to spill in Armenian streets. These people are not satisfied yet from the October 27th blood [Parliament shooting].


Pashinyan addresses Levon Ter-Petrosyan's suggestion that he should receive legal immunity and move abroad:

Levon, during his glorious political career, displayed us two great examples of how to run away. Do I look like someone who can run away? If the people decide to execute me, I will humbly stand under the execution wall. Don't think that I will run away from such a decision.


Pashinyan about evaluating the past and thinking about the future:

One of the defining things about our past is that people's rights were taken away, and often it was done while manipulating the Artsakh issue and using it as a card.

It is very important to understand in what period of 30 years we have made unremitting efforts to have a strong army, and in what period of time those efforts were actually aimed at solving completely different problems.

Those forces that took away peoples' rights by manipulating the Artsakh issue in the past are attempting to repeat history. I came to tell you today that we will not let that happen.


Pashinyan about unblocking regional trade routes:

It's beneficial for Armenia and Azerbaijan. We need to move forward, and the negotiations to unblock trade are part of it. Do not believe anyone who tells you that only Azerbaijan or only Armenia benefits from unblocking the roads.

Azerbaijan needs it to connect to Nakhijevan securely. Armenia needs it to connect to Russia and Iran. Our economy can change significantly.

There is a lot of talk about how Azerbaijan got rich by selling oil. Copper is 21st-century oil. The world has already begun switching to electric vehicles. Combustion engine vehicles will eventually be driven out of the market.

Copper is an important part of electric vehicles. Armenia has huge reserves of copper. If we can unblock regional railways, we could establish copper factories to produce copper products, instead of exporting raw copper materials as it's done today.


the opposition

Serj Sargsyan released a response to Pashinyan's Aragatsotn speech, calling him the enemy of Armenian people, a capitulant, and accusing him of lying about the lack of favorable negotiations process after he took the office, and accused him of alienating OSCE Minsk co-chairs "none of whom defended Armenia during the war."


ARF will consult regional offices on future plans. The party, which is part of Vazgen Manukyan Camp, will launch trips across provinces soon. Manukyan had earlier emphasized the need to meet rural voters to convince them to stand up against Pashinyan.


wounded soldiers meet Premier at his residence

In what became a routine thing, a group of former soldiers visited the First Family residence to discuss various topics. Soldiers told their stories and the issues they face today.

Photos: https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046714.html

6,306 Artsakh families continue to live in Armenia

That's 24,456 people, down from 35k in the earlier months.

Labor Minister Mesrop visited Artsakh to discuss the ongoing social programs and housing construction, "activation of which will allow the remaining Artsakh families to return."

https://factor.am/350497.html , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/209385

Armenia congratulates the Muslim world with Novruz holidays

Premier Pashinyan and President Sarkissian congratulated the Armenian-Kurdish community, leaders of Iran, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, etc.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046700.html, https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046644.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046649.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046653.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046654.html

5-year-old David sets his 12th world record

David Petrosyan from Kharberd pulled 2 Lada Priora vehicles (combined 4,800kg) with 2 fingers. He then did 30 pushups with his left hand and the right foot.

He dedicated the achievement to April 2016 war hero Qyaram Sloyan.


one more Armenian wrestler defeats an Azeri opponent

A European qualification competition in Hungary. 67kg Slavik Galstyan defeated his Azeri opponent Islambek Dadov with a 14:6 score in the quarter-finals.

If he makes it to the finale, he will become the latest wrestler to secure a ticket to Tokyo Olympics.


Azeri protesters demand Aliyev's resignation

Days after the Aliyev regime allegedly hired thugs to stab an opposition blogger in France, a group of dissident bloggers living abroad organized a protest in Azerbaijan.

The residents spoke about socio-economic issues and the worsening of the economy. They called for President Aliyev's resignation and the release of political prisoners.

The police violently dispersed the crowd.


US Commission on Religious Freedom is critical of Azerbaijan's attack against religious freedoms and monuments

USCIRF visited Azerbaijan during the pre and post-2020 war period to examine religious-related issues.

The report states that the situation with religious freedom in Azerbaijan continues to be problematic, partly because of a 2009 law, and that the authorities aren't interested in reviewing it. The report talks about the persecution of religious activists.

It mentions how the Ghazanchetsots church in Shushi was bombed twice during the war. It cites research by Human Rights Watch organization, stating that it was a deliberate attack on the church, and a war crime, which should be investigated and the perpetrators punished.

The report acknowledges that Aliyev promised to Putin to respect the Armenian religious sites in the captured lands, but it states that some areas have already been vandalized, such as the cemetery near Hadrut church.

The USCIRF asked US State Department and Congress to add Azerbaijan to the list of closely-watched states due to violations of religious freedoms.


Tags: #ReligiousFreedom #ReligionInAzerbaijan

Crimean officials say they plan to make an official visit to Armenia

The Deputy Premier of Crimea told Russian media that they plan to send an official envoy to Armenia to develop business, tourism, and cultural ties. "There will be a Days of Republic of Crimea festival in Armenia to mark the 7th anniversary of Crimea's unification with Russia," said the official.

Armenian Foreign Ministry said they don't have any information about an official visit.

Context: Crimea voted to reunite with Russia but it's recognized by the international community as part of Ukraine. Russia hopes more countries will recognize Crimea as part of Russia. Cough cough Artsakh Artsakh wink wink gas gas. WHO KNOWS WHAT'S NEXT?


agricultural season launches in Artsakh

Russian peacekeepers are guarding the farmers who work 20 just meters from the border. "The situation is calm. A mutual understanding was reached between [Armenians and Azeris]," said a peacekeeper.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046633.html , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/209374

apricot trees are blossoming in Ararat valley

It has begun.



10,924 tested. 1,657 infected. 771 healed. 28 deaths. 11,219 active.

Gyumri hospital will reopen the COVID section amid rising numbers.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046625.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046660.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046696.html

a renovated underground passage reopens under Mashtots Avenue

Do not pee there anymore. Thank you.

Photos: https://factor.am/350522.html

video: Armenian chocolate is exported to the United States

Construction expert Davit Karakhanyan decided to create the chocolate factory/cafe "Sweet Diet" during the pandemic. It launched as a family business in May. Today they employ 12 workers. Local organic products are being used.

In December they were able to export large quantities to the US. It was a success. They plan to open a factory in the US.


update: UCOM launches the Gigabit fiber-optic internet

As we learned on February 25th, UCOM ISP is building a 10Gbps fiber-optic internet network in some Yerevan districts.

Over the weekend, they began delivering 1Gbps to select customers as an experiment. Hasmik Hajatyan is the first-ever customer; she was given a "certificate". The gigabit internet is ten times faster than the current speeds.


World Happiness Report 2021

1) Finland 65) Moldova 76) Russia 86) Armenia 90) Azerbaijan 104) Turkey 108) Georgia


education reforms / raising education levels / finding children who were left behind / teacher salaries & qualification / low-income aid

Reporter Robert Ananyan: the war was proof that we can pay a big price because of low education levels. Do you agree?

Deputy Education Minister Joanna Andreasyan: education is a matter of national security.

Reporter: World Bank's 2019 report shows that 33% of children under the age of 10 have illiteracy problems. 10% of the 18-20 group has functional illiteracy. What's your plan?

Deputy Minister: let's clarify what "functional illiteracy" is. Being able to read a text doesn't ensure that we understand them. The issue is to what degree can our students understand and analyze the text.

We have problems here, and it's not only in the 2019 report. This issue has always existed, and not just in Armenia. This is why today the world talks not only about the "right for education", but a "right for learning". Just because you sit in a class doesn't mean you're learning.

The government approved two measures in February to address this. First, search and identify children who were left behind in education. Second, long-term (երկարօրյա) education.

Search and identify: find every child who often skips classes. A large share of those with functional education problems are children who have a household and other issues. We will work with multiple agencies such as social services and police, and not just schools.

Long-term: What we do after identifying them is also important. Long-term education envisions additional education for these children. The 2022 budget will provide the funds for the search and identify program, while the long-term program budget was approved in this year's budget.

Reporter: the former government was criticized for their "elitist education" plan to form a few locomotives which would "push the rest forward", but critics argued that behind that plan, they wanted to form "educated elites to rule others politically". How is your plan different when it comes to funding education more fairly?

Deputy Minister: Yes. This is one of the most important topics. Quality education requires proper financing. Last year we drafted a bill to reform how schools are funded. The parliament adopted it this January.

Financing will no longer be based on the number of students in schools. It's more flexible now, and is being financed per "groups".

800 out of 1,400 schools in Armenia are the only schools within their settlements, so there is no logic behind funding them based on the number of students; they already have the max capacity.

The old system created situations when these rural schools were disadvantaged. For example, during the early 2000s, separate high schools were formed -- mostly in cities -- for 10-12 graders. They could have certain levels of specialization here and choose career directions. But the provincial schools lacked these options because of a lack of financing because they were small.

Reporter: Pashinyan recently said that teachers who get certified will receive 30-50% higher wages. What does the certification check? Should the history teacher know when this or that historical battle took place? Or is it also about teacher's other personal values, such as defending vulnerable children?

Deputy Minister: our policies towards teachers should be comprehensive, but the certificate mentioned by Pashinyan is a voluntary knowledge test for teachers. The goal is to evaluate the level of their knowledge in the subject they teach. International experience shows that the level of knowledge is the only thing we can measure objectively.

I agree that other personal values are important. Moreover, we launched cooperation with British Council and Scheffield University to draft a comprehensive teacher development plan, which is based on teachers' values, attitudes, etc.

We need to amend education laws. We have a draft bill to establish the teacher's professional standards. It's a complex thing: personal values, knowledge level, responsibility. Only after passing that bill, we can have a more comprehensive teacher evaluation.

Reporter: we have remote schools that lack teachers. An arithmetic teacher has to also teach history because there are no history teachers, for example. Children are often required to travel to other settlements for a specific subject.

Deputy Minister: we took several steps to address the teacher shortage last year. We examined every school that has a shortage: there were 101. We gave them rooms with computer electronics so, in the event of a missing local teacher, students can study that subject remotely.

Moreover, there is an ongoing auction to select mentor schools in a decentralized manner. Schools with "surplus" teachers can join so their teachers can educate rural children remotely. It'll be ready this September. The teachers will of course be paid (hallelujah lol)

Besides providing remote education tools, another way to solve teacher shortage is with the changes we made to the rules regarding subsidies for teachers who travel to mountainous/bordering settlements. This amendment went into effect in January. Teachers who travel there will receive 30% salary raise, additional living cost compensation, etc.

We will have a new electronic platform soon. Every province will disclose their teacher demand. Every expert, who has a certificate, can enter the website freely and learn where the vacant spots are, salary, conditions, etc. and they can apply to work there.

The info is then sent to Education Ministry which can dispatch the teacher. In the future, we will develop this online platform and turn it into a teacher competition place, not just for bordering and mountainous areas.

Another change to address the teacher shortage in rural areas is with transportation. The amended rules went into effect this January. The government is now obligated that in the event a child attends a school that isn't in their settlement, the government must compensate the transportation fee. The amount of compensation has increased.

Reporter: ... but there are villages without public transport.

Deputy Minister: yes, the rules will allow children to take a taxi.

Reporter: in Syunik's Antarashat village there is still an issue of children having to walk several kilometers to school because of lack of transport [GOOD FOR THEIR HEALTH?]

Deputy Minister: it's a matter of organizing the process between the school and the settlement. The Ministry provides the conditions and tools, while the school has to sign the transportation contract for a taxi, etc.

Reporter: low-income families spend 7x less on their child's education. Do you have plans?

Deputy Minister: it's a closed chain where the poor cannot get an education because they are poor, but they need the education in order not to be poor. Our primary goal is to make higher education available to low-income children, too.

As for pre-university education, we have multiple programs. Books cost a lot and they are no longer free after the elementary years. That's why we have a program to provide free books to low-income families. Each school is given a quota; the school board and parents' unions decide which child gets the books.

Reporter: ... but even that won't solve all the poverty-related problems.

Deputy Minister: of course. Another program is free food for elementary schools. Many studies show a connection between healthy food and academic success. Last year we signed a new agreement with the UN and other colleagues to install greenhouses and other agricultural facilities near schools. [students and teachers pick their own tomatoes, basically]

Reporter: how can we deliver higher education to the low-income? Is it only done through these "discount" programs? Some countries have a publicly-funded education system.

Deputy Minister: the government provides 9,000 free education slots. If they are distributed appropriately to the low-income, it can be of great help. There are also financial discounts for vulnerable groups.

To make any program efficient, you must have statistics. This is our biggest flow right now. This is why we emphasize the need for "shtemaran" to allow us to be more targeted.

As part of one of the new reform bills, by the end of June, we will confirm the Education Governance Information System, which will be one of our main tools [to get the needed stats for efficient governance].

Reporter: an international study done in 2015, about math and natural sciences knowledge, revealed that 21% of Armenia's 8th graders scored very low grades. A similar picture for 4th graders in 2019. This is one of the indexes that foreign investors take into account before investing.

Deputy Minister: you cited 2015 and 2019 reports. If you compare them you'll see that there is a positive trend. The results for 4th graders were closer to average. These reports should be used to analyze trends to see if your system is developing.

Reporter: can we hope that the scores will cross the average rate in a few years?

Deputy Minister: only if we take steps. We need to finalize the ongoing education programs. The same research also showed that what Armenian children study in 12 years can be studied in just 9. This is not satisfactory. This means we are wasting children's time and our resources. We need to re-evaluate what we do in schools.

The ongoing changes to education standards aim to have a 12-year-level education after 12 years. Only then we can have higher results in international tests.

Reporter: How come Armenia, which had one of the highest education rates in the USSR, plummeted within 30 years of its independence? Do you plan to expose those responsible for it?

Deputy Minister: we should evaluate and address the shortcomings in the past after a deep examination but I think what we do today and in the future is more important.

Reporter: but don't you think giving a political response now will also act as a preventative measure so that politicians won't maul the education system and won't try to politicize it again in the future?

Deputy Minister: it's important.

Reporter: do we know how many children were left out of the education system due to COVID? Any help for the low-income?

Deputy Minister: we finished the previous education season in 2020 by grading the students only based on their in-person attendance scores to make it fairer for every child, because 15% of children were left out of remote learning because of computer and internet shortage.

These children received additional classes during the summer. We launched a public campaign to collect tech equipment for them. Several thousand devices were sent to provinces.

The government also planned to spent large resources to buy equipment, but since the new education season in September began with in-person attendance, the government decided to spend the resources elsewhere, to make schools physically safe for in-personal attendance.

Research shows that even if you have all the necessary equipment, remote learning cannot fully substitute in-person learning.

https://factor.am/350279.html , 27:00 onward https://youtu.be/lEB_QLFjGIM

Tags: #EducationReform #RemoteLearning #RuralSchools #NoChildLeftBehind #literacy

end of report

The accused are innocent unless proven guilty in the court of law, even if they "appear" guilty.

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Link to original report and comments: https://www.reddit.com/r/armenia/comments/ma411m/mar212021_news_1_pashinyan_speech_negotiations/

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