Students from Armenia and Artsakh’s villages hoping to attend one of the many universities in Yerevan face a number of obstacles. Most importantly, students deal with the challenge of finding affordable housing. Students might not receive adequate preparation at village schools, many of which are in poor condition due to a lack of resources. Finally, students might struggle with adapting to life in a large urban environment. Families from remote villages who cannot afford to support a student’s independent living expenses in Yerevan may consider moving to the city for the sake of their child’s education. But abandoning Armenia’s villages, and especially Armenia’s border villages, poses serious problems for Armenia. Villages must be strengthened, not emptied of families. Despite cases of underfunded and understaffed village schools, however, many students from such villages excel due to their strong work ethics and sheer determination to succeed.
Student Home, under the auspices of Armenia’s Strong Minds NGO, was established in 2021 by Mher Mkrtchyan—owner of a business in Yerevan, Tsovinar Sargsyan—a business leader and educator, and Paytsar Muradyan—a scientist, together with others. Student Home’s mission is to provide a supportive, affordable home for students from Armenia and Artsakh’s remote villages who are attending universities in Yerevan. Cost to students is approximately 25-percent of the cost of university housing. Additionally, Student Home provides a welcoming environment for young Armenians unaccustomed to a big city environment. Students can attend informal educational lectures on topics of interest and tutorials for additional instruction in subjects such as English or Russian or computer skills. When feasible, scholarships may be offered to some of the neediest students. Finally, and no less important, Student Home establishes a community of determined young men and women from villages across Armenia and Artsakh. Though students come from different villages and pursue a variety of majors at different universities, they forge a common bond within a nurturing environment.
Student Home is located on 20 David Malyan Street in Yerevan in a vacant factory building. As the building was unused, Strong Minds negotiated a low-cost 10-year lease on a portion of the building, which they renovated with funds from Armenian and diasporan donors. Much of the work was done by volunteers. Though construction work is not quite complete, between 30 to 35 students resided there while completing the fall 2021 semester, with the ultimate goal of housing 45 to 50 students. There is the possibility of purchasing the facilities sometime in the future. Student Home includes a large kitchen area, a meeting room for socializing or lectures, new bathrooms and a laundry room. The library was initially stocked with donated books to about 20-percent of its capacity. Now, sufficient books have been collected for some to be donated to village libraries, village schools or community centers. Neat and modern rooms typically house two students each. The environment is cordial, attractively furnished and decorated, with a sense of community among the student residents. A large painting in progress of a map of Armenia and Artsakh greets visitors in the entryway. The home villages of each student will eventually be marked on the map. During evening hours, a security guard will be posted at the Student Home, and the entrance will be monitored with a video camera.
In order to be admitted, students must come from remote villages and demonstrate a commitment to contributing to the development of their village. Students attend Yerevan State University, the State Engineering University (Polytechnic), the French University, the Russian University and the Pedagogical University, with majors including law, mathematics, architecture, international relations, science, psychology, philosophy, languages and education.
Interviews with some of the students provided insight into their commitments to helping their villages. They also addressed some of their thoughts to the diaspora. Following are some excerpts from interviews with these young Armenian men and women:
Dianna Askaryan – from a border village in the Askaran region of Artsakh: She is majoring in international relations at Yerevan State University. She is sure she will be able to bring benefits to her country – “Armenia and Artsakh – one country, inseparable.” Her village has security issues which need to be addressed. She intends to establish youth activities upon her return, first in her village, then in neighboring villages. She said that without Student Home it would be difficult to rent an apartment in Yerevan. Her interview was in English which was quite good. She hopes Armenians from the Diaspora will visit Student Home.
Dianna Grigoryan – from Vanadzor in Lori province: Dianna is studying IT at the National Polytechnic University of Armenia (Polytechnic Institute), hoping to pursue a career in data science and cyber security. She wants to use these skills to develop her country. To the Diaspora she says, “Follow your dreams and help your country. It’s our home.”
Torosyan – from Martuni: He is studying at the Pedagogical University. He notes that his village is new, established in 1921 by refugees from Western Armenia. His village, he says, is a replica of Western Armenia. He wants to return to his village and enhance youth activities there. He indicated, “Student Home is like a large family.”
A young woman – from Aragatsavan: This student is studying psychology and philosophy at Yerevan State University, subjects she has always been interested in. She wants to understand and help people, improve government and collaborate with the Diaspora. She wants all Armenians to be united.
A young woman – from Dilijan: She is majoring in European languages at Yerevan State University studying English, with a determination to learn German and other European languages and cultures as well. She praised Dilijan’s beauty and attraction for tourists. She wants to represent Armenian culture to non-Armenians. She says, “All Armenians should be united.”
Ruzanna Vartanyan – from Artabuynk, Vayots Dzor province: Ruzanna is studying architecture and construction techniques at Yerevan State University. She expressed a desire for unity with the Diaspora.
Nareg Baghdasaryan – from Karmir Gyugh in Gegharkunik province: Nareg is at the Polytechnic Institute majoring in engineering and computer science. He complains that the youth do not have enough after-school activities, and many leave their village. He is thankful for those who help and wishes “for a stronger government and strong Diaspora.”
Mariam Alexanyan – from Arevashat village: Mariam is a student at the Armenian Economic University. She says, “My village is a beautiful village, and I cannot foresee living outside my village. Student Home has given me an opportunity to help my village.” She intends to return and organize the youth of her village to address village issues. To the Diaspora she says, “Those who have not visited Armenia should visit at least on one occasion.”
Muradyan – from Horatagh village in northern Artsakh but now lives in Shirak province in Armenia. He is a second-year mathematics student at the Armenian – Russian university. Though his village is in a very suitable area near the north-south highway, he is dismayed that many villagers work outside his village. Regarding Student Home, he says, “I feel very comfortable here.” To the Diaspora he says “Sure, it’s easier out there. But come back and do here what you do there.”
A young woman – from Dzoravan, Gegharkunik province: She is studying tourism at the Armenian-Russian university. People from her village are originally from northern Artsakh. While the village population is decreasing, the number of youths is on the rise. Upon her return she intends to work with young people. She asks all Diaspora Armenians to act as ambassadors for Armenia and Armenian culture.
Samonik – from Sanahin in Lori Marz: Samonik is enrolled at the Armenian Pedagogical University, learning how to help deaf children. She wants to help children overcome their difficulties. Her village, like most, depends on farming and raising animals, but it also has a cottage industry selling handicrafts to people visiting the Sanahin Monastery.
Nikolai Aghahjanyan – from Gegharkunik province: Nicolai is a law student studying at the French university. Classes are in English, but by the second year classes will be in French, which he is learning. He was always interested in law. He says the Diaspora can help Armenia even if they are unable to come to Armenia.