Some Syrian Armenians hope learning Russian will help them to better
integrate into Armenian society

Education | 18.01.13 | 12:43

Garabedian's family- Diranouhi and Hovig with their son Setraq attend
Russian language courses

By Julia Hakobyan
ArmeniaNow Deputy Editor

Diranouhi Garabedian diligently pronounces: "Ya lyublyu russkii yazik"
(I love Russian language). The teacher corrects her, praises, asks a
new question.

Enlarge Photo
Victor Krivopuskov

Garabedian is 42, but this is not the surprising part of her
attendance to the Russian language courses. Garabedian is an Armenian
refugee from Syria who says she wants to learn Russian because she
realizes it comes in handy for better adaptation in Yerevan. She also
hopes that some day she will be able to read some classic Russian
literature in the original language. Her husband and son also attend
the same classes.

The family moved to Armenia a year and a half ago, because of the
ongoing conflict in Syria, which has been going on for 2 years. They
say that in the beginning it was hard to adjust to the life in
Yerevan, but by now, when they get used to life in a new country, they
are thinking of staying in Yerevan forever.

"The Russian language is the second language in Armenia, and we
thought, since we stay here, we have to learn it, because it is being
widely practiced in Yerevan. Russian words are heard in everyday
speech and can be seen in markets, in streets, in restaurants. I think
if we acquire basic knowledge it will be very helpful to us,' says
Garabedian, who herself is a teacher of Armenian language at Yerevan's
Cilician school. (The school was opened last year for the Syrian
Armenian students, who study a Syrian curriculum in Arabic.)

Garabedian is one of nine Syrian Armenian students who attend the
newly opened Russian courses organized specially for them at the
Russian Training Center of the Rossotrudnichestvo agency in Armenia
(The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States).
Russian classes for Syrian Armenians started two weeks ago and are
held three times a week, the length of each - 80 minutes, the courses
will last for two months with a monthly fee of $25.

Victor Krivopuskov, the head of the Culture and Science center of the
agency says they were ready to organize the classes for free, but
Syrian Armenians said they prefer to pay for it.

`Learning language requires consistency and it was their desire to pay
in order to treat to it seriously. I am not surprised that a group of
Syrian Armenians, even a small one, wants to learn Russian, because
the language is in high demand in Armenia. Though they are some
opponents of the Russian language use in Armenia, it is obvious that
Russian language is very important to Armenia, since it has its
biggest Diaspora in Russia (about 2 million) and therefore, many ties.
Russian remain the major investor in Armenia, and Russia currently
fully or partially owns many enterprises in fuel and energy,
metallurgical and construction sectors. In Armenia, there are about
1,500 Russian companies, and of course, people who work there have to
know Russian very well. "

(The use of Russian language from time to time becomes a matter of
controversy in Armenia, being determined not by philological aspects,
but rather political. In 2010 the Ministry of Education drafted a bill
on the opening of foreign schools in Yerevan which provoked hot
debates and was sharply criticized by those who believed that leaning
in a foreign language would affect an Armenian child's identity.
However the parliament adopted the bill in the first reading which
caused an opinion that the bill was imposed on Armenia by Russia.)

Meanhile Krivopuskov says the agency will soon organize classes for
another group of Syrian Armenians, and now the agency is considering
the possibility of employment of Syrian Armenians, since many of them
are well educated and can be engaged in Russian-Armenian companies.

Thousands of ethnic Armenians fled the bloody conflict in Syria and
about 5000 of them came to Armenia through 2011-2012. While about 2000
lately left Armenia for another country others try to adjust to the
life in Armenia, waiting to the conflict's end, while others, like
Garabedian's family who learn Russian, regards the possibility of
staying in Armenia on a permanent basis even after the conflict ends.

The family of Garen Balkhian, another student in the Russian classes
also intends to stay in Armenia. The 17 year old Balkhian is a student
of the Cilician school.

`For the first time I heard Russian speech in movies and decided to
learn it, because many of my Yerevan friends speaks Russian,' says
Balkhian, who indents to study business and economy.

As for Garabedian, moving to Yerevan pushed her to think on acquiring
another profession, and now she is a first grade student of the
Romano-German philology at Yerevan State University.

`I know Armenian, Arabic, Turkish and I know a little French. As many
languages a person knows, the more advantages she has,' she says.

Armenians of Syria, like representatives of other Armenian Diaspora in
Middle East, the U.S. and Western Europe, speak Western Armenian. It
differs from Eastern Armenian spoken in Armenia; however the speakers
easily understand each other.

Whether the Russian language will be of help to Syrian Armenians
depends on what kind of job they will manage to find, since
unemployment is the most serious problems the Syrian Armenian faces.
Only a small group of Syrian Armenians managed to launch business in
Yerevan and only 150 of them have found jobs through the assistance of
the Ministry of Diaspora in Armenia. In 2012, 494 citizens of Syria
out of 565 applied for asylum in Armenia according to the State
Migration Service.