School for Syrian-Armenian Kids Forges Ahead in Yerevan

YEREVAN (A.W.)—More than 300 Syrian-Armenian children who fled Aleppo in recent months are now studying at a school in Yerevan, and following the Syrian curriculum.

Children getting ready for class after recess (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)
Children getting ready for class after recess (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

Operating since 2012, the Giligian School (grades 1 to 9) is situated in a wing of the Nar-Tos Number 14 School in Yerevan, and caters to Syrian-Armenian students. While their parents struggle to secure the basic needs of their family, the daily routine of the school provides a sense of normalcy to the children.

Over the past few months, the number of students continued to grow as more and more families arrived in Armenia. The influx slowed down earlier this year, as flights between Aleppo and Yerevan were discontinued.

Still, several new students enroll in the school every week, school principal Nora Pilibbossian told Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian in an interview. Syrian-Armenian families are arriving in Armenia by way of Lebanon. Others, however, are leaving, as families move to Europe, the Emirates, or other countries after a few months’ stop in Armenia.

The average size of a class is around 30 students, with certain classrooms holding many more; the 7-9th grades accommodate more than 40 students each. Most of the classes here are taught in Arabic, except the Armenian-, English-, and French-language classes (the latter for students in grades 7-9).

Considering the difficulty of acquiring textbooks from Syria in large numbers, photocopies are often made and distributed to students.

The class schedule for second graders. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
The class schedule for second graders. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

Buses rented by the school pick them up in the morning from different neighborhoods in and around Yerevan, and drop them back off in the afternoon. The school bus system is uncommon in Armenia, where most local children go to schools in their own neighborhoods or use public transportation.

The U.S.-based Giligian Paresiragan Miutyun sponsors the school, which also accepts donations from individuals and groups willing to help. In turn, the Armenian Ministry of the Diaspora and the Ministry of Science and Education provide moral and administrative support.

Interested donors can sponsor students or help defray transportation costs.

Challenges ahead

“Even the evening before the school opened its doors, there were some who doubted this project would take off,” said Pilibbossian. But take off it did, and it continues to operate seamlessly.

The school's report card (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
The school’s report card (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

Yet, the future of the school, as well as that of the hundreds of Syrian-Armenian families who have fled their homes and found refuge in Armenia, Lebanon, and beyond, remains fraught with challenges and uncertainties.

Here in Yerevan, many families are still struggling to find proper housing, jobs, and some semblance of normalcy. Yet, education remains at the center of their attention. One parent told the Weekly how, before the Giligian School opened, the children were staying at home all day.

“We tried sending the kids to a local school, but they had difficulties adapting to the curriculum,” Raffi, a parent of three, said. “We then tried home-schooling, but with everything else we have to sort out, that didn’t really work out either.”

While many see the school as a blessing, they also realize that it is only a temporary solution. “We will return to Syria the day after hostilities cease, and we want our children to continue their education there without experiencing difficulty,” another parent said.

Others doubt that it will be possible to return soon—or at all—and acknowledge that steps must be taken at the school to prepare the students for integration into the local education system, where Eastern Armenian—with considerable differences from the Western Armenian dialect the children speak—and Russian are the main languages of instruction.

“We still dream of returning to our beloved Aleppo. But with each passing day, that dream becomes fuzzier,” said Raffi.

Operating since 2012, the Giligian School (grades 1 to 9) is situated in a wing of the Nar-Tos Number 14 School in Yerevan, and caters to Syrian-Armenian students. (Photo: the Armenian Weekly)
Operating since 2012, the Giligian School (grades 1 to 9) is situated in a wing of the Nar-Tos Number 14 School in Yerevan, and caters to Syrian-Armenian students. (Photo: the Armenian Weekly)
Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Khatchig Mouradian is the Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist at the Library of Congress and a lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. He also serves as Co-Principal Investigator of the project on Armenian Genocide Denial at the Global Institute for Advanced Studies, New York University. Mouradian is the author of The Resistance Network: The Armenian Genocide and Humanitarianism in Ottoman Syria, 1915-1918, published in 2021. The book has received the Syrian Studies Association “Honourable Mention 2021.” In 2020, Mouradian was awarded a Humanities War & Peace Initiative Grant from Columbia University. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming book on late-Ottoman history, and the editor of the peer-reviewed journal The Armenian Review.
Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

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  1. don’t you think this is so stupid?
    10 Arabic lessons in 5 days, and 4 Armenian lessons ???

    • If it really is set up that way then yes. Most likely these people will not be going back to Syria. Best to focus on building a future in Armenia.

    • No offense, but it’s much more useful for them to know Arabic, even if they are going to remain in Armenia or not return to Syria.

      Even if the school were to concentrate wholly on Armenian, Western Armenian is too different to be of use in Armenia. They would have to introduce Eastern Armenian classes and with its different pronunciations and Soviet reformed spelling rules it would just be too much to take on.

  2. Such beautiful little Armenian faces! I wish these children and their families much happiness in their new lives and look forward to what Syrian Armenians can contribute to the homeland.

    Sarkiss and AR, I am sure that when and if it becomes clear that returning to Syria is not going to happen, the curriculum will be adjusted accordingly, but in the meantime it makes sense that the children keep up with the curriculum back ‘home.’ There is something to be said for minimizing trauma for these children by allowing them to find some small comfort in something familiar.

    • Right Boyajian: “Such beautiful little Armenian faces!”

      I think most people miss the greatest symbol this picture represents: there is a safe, secure Armenian Homeland for these vulnerable Armenian children to find safe haven in. Where they can be what they are without fear of extermination: Christian, Armenian.

      Thank God and men & women who made it happen.

      I also wish RoA had the funds to bring in non-Armenian children of all faiths from Syria who face danger – for temporary shelter until the civil war ends. Syria sheltered 10s of thousands of survivors of the AG: sad that RoA is too poor to help in some way.

    • Beautiful thoughts, Avery. It would be wonderful if Armenia could offer that kind of support to Syrians.

  3. I believe they are doing the right thing. These children came from the same environment, and they are trying to keep that environment so that the children will not go through drastic changes in their education too quickly. There is a chance they will return one day, in which case the transition will once again be easy. If they end up staying, there is nothing wrong with learning Arabic, in fact they would do good as expert Arabic speakers for Armenia in the future.

  4. Why would they return to that Gos forsaken place?! I understand leaving homes, businesses, friends behind, but this is their golden chance to repatriate permanently to their homeland. Isn’t that every displaced Armenian’s ultimate objective? I never quite understood why diasporans in Mid East countries, which are relatively closer to Armenia than say the US and are in just as bad if not worse economic cnditions, didn’t come home long ago. The more they stay the more middle eastern they become themselves. And I’ve noticed this personally. For example, what does the foul habit of nargile smoking have to do with Armenian culture? And on that topic, our brave ancestors would be rolling in their graves if they saw us teaching Armenian children Arabic on our lands.

  5. Persians become fluent in Armenian after a few months spent in Yerevan and Syrian-Armenians find it difficult to combine Eastern-Armenian and Western-Armenian ?

  6. Those poor children and their parents suffered greatly in Syria. Let them feel free in their ancestral land. If they want their children to follow the Syrian school program let them do it. Some of them want to go back. It may or may not happen. I believe in giving people space and freedom in general.

    They kept their language and culture in Syria and that is more than we can ever ask for. Those children speak more pure Armenian than most of us who grew up in Armenia. The number of Russian words used in our everyday speech in Armenia is troubling in some sense.

  7. What Armenians need is a standardized educational system. Armenia is one of the most homogenous countries in the world and Armenians are a very homogenous people and to me it makes no sense to have two distinct dialects anymore. Even in many non-homogeneous countries where people speak in different dialects, the language fundamentals formally taught in schools across the country are the same for all.

    Even though people who speak in one or the other dialect can easily, in most cases, understand and communicate with each other, the fact remains that a common language is the key that bonds people closer together than any other thing. For example, I personally speak the Eastern dialect and, in most part, I have no trouble understanding and communicating in the Western dialect, but I strongly believe homogeneity is what is needed in our educational system. The educational system in the US is an example of this. Hundreds of different nationalities, who may even be bilingual or trilingual, live in the United States but they all study the same common language in schools and communicate with one another in the same language regardless of where they come from.

    We seem to have “two” of everything: Two distinct dialects, two Holy Seas, Etchmiadzin and Kilikia, two communities, Hayastan and Spyurk, and so on. I understand that some of these exist because of our recent history, and it may take a few generations, but it is time to do away with all these artificial divisions.

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