Home is Where the Heart is: Students at Cilician school say they enjoy Yerevan, but dream of returning to Aleppo

Every day Rozalia Mrjoian follows the news from Syria and is saddened when she learns the tragedy in her homeland continues.

“Bad guys want to overthrow our president. They were told ‘Go and kill people and you will get a visa for heaven’. They hide under bridges and shoot the civilians. And they want to kill Armenians as well. Because our president is in good relations with Armenians and Armenians support him.” This is the perception of war 10 year old Rozalia, who is with her family in her third week stay in Armenia, having fled here from bombing and fighting in Aleppo, their home city.

Rozalia is one of the students enrolled in the newly established Cilician school in Yerevan, which provides education in Arabic language for those Syrian Armenian children whose families have temporarily migrated to Armenia to wait till the situation in Syria is settled. (Another group of Syrian Armenian children are enrolled in different schools throughout Yerevan and get education according to local curriculum.)

The opening of Cilicia school was initiated by “Cilicia” charitable organization (based in Syria) and supported by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Diaspora, guided by the order of the president Serzh Sargsyan to provide the Syrian Armenian children with appropriate conditions to continue education.

The school is currently attended by 265 children, (grades 1-9) 30 more than when it opened two weeks ago. As director Nora Pilibosian says the number of children increases each time a plane from Syria arrives in Armenia.

“Things are much better now, children get used to the school. The education is based on Syrian curriculum and hopefully, when they go back, they won’t be behind in their schools,” says Pilibosian.

The Cilician school occupies 2 floors of the Nar Dos school N14 (which this year became a high school for local Armenians, which means only pupils from 10-12 grades attend it). The UN office in Yerevan will soon donate eight computers to the school; UNICEF will provide children with winter clothes.

Most of the children in the school are fluent in (Western) Armenian. They are joyful and affable, and though they speak of the hospitality they have received in Armenia, almost all of them dream to return to their homeland, Syria.

“We had to stand for hours in line to get bread. And it was very dangerous to be in the street, because any moment one could be killed. There were many people from our street who died from the shells”, says Rozalia. “I cherish the day the war is over and I am back in Syria”

Her classmate, Sona Qaradanaian says she likes Yerevan, especially churches and Mount Ararat.

“I saw Ararat once, when we visited Yerevan last year and I wanted to see it again. I enjoy being here. My dream is to study good and become a pediatrician. But still, most of all I want to be back home,” says Sona.

Since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011 more than three dozen Syrian Armenians have been reportedly killed in the ongoing conflict in Syria, home to an estimated 80,000-strong Armenian community mostly concentrated in Aleppo. In all, the conflict in Syria resulted in the death of more than 30,000, most of which were peaceful residents.

Armenia was caught off guard by the migration of Syrian Armenians, as the number reached more than 5,000. But according to the Ministry of Diaspora, some 3,300 have already gone back, while others remain in Armenia.

Families from Syria, who intend to stay, are trying to settle down and solve the basic problems such as finding jobs and homes.

Hasmik Hejinian’s family is one of them. Hejinian, a mother of two teenage daughters who attend Cilician school says they flee from Syria to Jordan, where they were intended to stay.

“In July we came to Armenia for a short visit, and the decision to stay here was accidental. Our daughters loved Armenia and said they want to stay here and continue education. So, we decided to take some time,” says Hejinian, who teaches Arabic language, mathematics and History of Religion. (in Armenian) at the school. Each religion lesson begins with the Lord’s Prayer.

“We are here and we feel secure,” the teacher says.