A Canadian doctor at the heart of the Nagorno-Karabakh war

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Axel Tardieu (access the author's page)

From doctors to nurses, around fifty members of the Armenian diaspora medical corps have taken the plane to help the wounded, soldiers and civilians, who number in the hundreds in the conflict between Armenia and the Azerbaijan. One of them is Canadian and decided to go there this week. He recounts his experience.

It was after a 30 hour shift that Raphael Vartazarmian answered our questions before trying to get some sleep back. The 44-year-old Quebec emergency physician left Montreal airport this weekend for Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

This is not the first time he has set foot in the land of his ancestors. He has been doing humanitarian missions there since the 1990s. I have always had the need to help Armenia. After the dissolution of the Soviet system, she was never able to get back on her feet and she always needed help, he explains.

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Escalation of fighting

Since September 27, the doctor has observed the development of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, an independentist enclave, predominantly Armenian, in the middle of Azerbaijan. It was after seeing the intensity of the fighting that this emergency physician at Hawkesbury Hospital in Ontario made the decision to book his plane ticket.

For security reasons, Dr. Vartazarmian cannot tell us exactly where he is. There are drones flying above us, he said. A few kilometers from the front, he treats the wounded, civilians and especially soldiers. They are 18 to 25 year olds with very serious injuries. We no longer want to see these young people arriving at the hospital. They are being attacked by drones with terrible technology. It's not a fair war, he says.

A man in tears at the grave of a soldier in Stepanakert, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, on October 17.

A man in tears at the grave of a soldier in Stepanakert, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, on October 17.

Photo: dpa via getty images / Aris Messinis

Mutual aid from the diaspora

Amid the tragedy of the fighting, however, the doctor sees a glimmer of hope in the mutual aid of his community. The Armenian diaspora, which outnumbered the current population of Armenia, quickly mobilized. In the field, Raphael Vartazarmian met people from Los Angeles, Boston, Paris or Moscow. It’s great to see that spirit. A fraternity is created between us in the face of this situation.

According to the president of the Armenian Medical Association of Quebec, Ari Demirjian, about 50 doctors and nurses from the global diaspora are presently there.

Between the pandemic and the war, that's two humanitarian battles to be fought. Above all, they need surgeons, neurosurgeons, nurses, anesthetists. We also need to organize ourselves so that psychologists and psychiatrists go to help the population with all cases of post-traumatic stress, because the need exists and will grow, he explains.

In this region of the South Caucasus, Raphael Vartazarmian remains in good spirits for the moment. There is always going to be hope. They have incredible strength, these people. It’s really inspiring. The Canadian emergency physician nevertheless hopes to see the end of the war soon so that he can join his family in Canada.

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