Virtual College: AGBU project for worldwide Armenians proves worthwhile in two years of functioning

At the beginning of its third year of activities the first and still sole Armenian virtual college is described by professionals and students as “the only way to stay Armenian” for those who live away from their historical “family”. In fact, the facility enables Diaspora Armenians -- no matter where they are in the world as far as they have access to the Internet -- to study the Armenian language, history and culture online, spending less time and a small amount of money.

In 2009, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the largest Armenian non-profit organization in the world, initiated and financed the establishment of the Armenian Virtual College (AVC), which today has about 1,300 students from 50 countries. By means of multimedia lectures, interactive maps, videos and forums AVC students receive a comprehensive education at three faculties (the Armenian language, history and culture) regardless of their age, place of residence and level of knowledge.

For Spain-born Astrid Baghdoian the AVC ( was the only opportunity to study the Armenian language and history. In the Spanish city of Alicante where she lives there is neither an Armenian school, nor a formed Armenian community.

“Only through this virtual college did I manage to learn Armenian and also teach my children pure Armenian. I had no other option as there is no school here, no books, and the college curricula are so convenient, easy that you don’t spend much time,” says the 32-year-old mother.

The College’s geography is expansive -- from the United States to Russia, from South Africa to Venezuela, from Argentina to tropical Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The ages of students also vary considerably. The majority of them are aged 20-50, but some 10 percent are 51-60 year-olds. Three percent of AVC students are aged above 70.

“Such a geographic extent proves that there is a need for this Virtual College, which, indeed, plays an important role in the preservation of Armenian identity, as only five percent of Armenians around the world have an opportunity to get Armenian education,” Dr Yervant Zorian, the founder and president of the Armenian Virtual College and member of the AGBU Central Board of Directors, told ArmeniaNow.

The duration of each AVC course is nine weeks and such a course costs about $200, which, according to Zorian, is just a symbolic fee meant primarily to raise the level of student responsibility as it covers only five percent of all expenses. AGBU, meanwhile, takes care of the rest of the expenses.

Armenia’s Minister of Culture Hasmik Poghosyan considers the College to be “the best project for preserving Armenian identity.”

“This is a rare project and perhaps is the best due to which Armenians around the world can remain Armenians. This is a serious matter today,” Poghosyan told ArmeniaNow.

Twenty-five percent of College students are from the United States. The second largest number of Armenian students at the AVC is from Georgia, followed by France and Russia.

The primate of the Armenian Diocese of Georgia, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan, who was present at the Tuesday online forum dedicated to the AVC’s second anniversary, welcomes and highly appreciates the activities of the facility.

“In Tbilisi we really need such a facility. Children lose their native language, assimilation is becoming more and more dangerous every day,” said the bishop.

According to Tbilisi’s Armenian community, only 12,000 of an estimated 82,000 Armenians living in the Georgian capital actually speak Armenian. And 90 percent of children attend Russian-language schools. While they live in a country that neighbors Armenia, there are still very few opportunities for them to learn the language.

Marina Sargsyan, 25, from Tbilisi still isn’t fluent in Armenian, but it was only recently that she managed to overcome the speaking barrier and finally started communicating in her mother tongue.

“It was difficult in the beginning. I did understand certain things, but I couldn’t speak. We have mostly communicated in Georgian, and now I am glad that within a few months, through such a convenient and easy project, I’ve managed to learn Armenian,” says Marina.

Courses at all three faculties of the College are taught in six languages, including two dialects of Armenian (Western and Eastern), Russian, English, Spanish, and French. Beginning in winter Turkish will be added to the languages of instruction.

The programs developed by the best specialists of the Yerevan State University and the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia are also applied in Armenian schools based in different countries, and multimedia courses are used along with traditional teaching.

“All schools have a problem with textbooks and this method to a certain extent solves the problem. About 10 schools have already switched to it and use our programs, providing the most interesting teaching for children,” says Dr. Zorian.