Syrian-Armenian barber: “For us Syrian-Armenians, predicting the future is one of the hardest things to do”

“I have been a barber for 14 years. I had a barber shop in Syria. We were very happy. In November 2012, we were “imposed” to move to Armenia. We had decided to celebrate the New Year, rest a little and return…”

This is one of the already familiar and unfamiliar stories of Syrian-Armenians who have been settling in Armenia over the past couple of years. The only difference is the “heroes”, and this time the “hero” is barber Koko Kalayjyan, whose has a barber shop called “Koko Kalayjyan Hair & Care” and located at 49 Pushkin Street.

The Syrian-Armenian barber went on in an interview with Hayern Aysor’s correspondent.

Koko Kalayjyan: I had been visiting from time to time over the years, but I eventually decided to settle in Armenia and work here.

I have lived in Beirut for two months and have worked in Russia for ten months. I wanted to see why many people in Armenia want to move to Russia and wanted to have the same experience. I learned a lot in terms of work and language.

Hayern Aysor: Did you find the answer to your question? Why do the people leave?

Koko Kalayjyan: I did, and I understood that it’s pointless. The Armenians of Russia (I’m not talking about the more secure Armenians) can do what they mainly do in Russia in Armenia as well. They don’t need to leave their families and go to Russia to work and live alone. I felt the same thing. True, you can earn more in Russia, but you also spend as much. At the end of the day, it’s the same thing.

Hayern Aysor: How long have you been running the barber shop? What successes have you achieved and what difficulties have you faced?

K. K.: I opened the barber shop in March 2015.

Our success is the reputation that we have gained in Yerevan. Our barber shop is becoming more popular, and many are becoming interested in our services. We haven’t faced major difficulties yet because we know very well how to do this business in Armenia.

Of course, there are differences. For instance, we work in a different format in Syria or in the Middle East. There people work as a group, but here I work as an individual. In Armenia, people prefer the barber, not the salon. This is very complicated and a waste of time. Instead of that, I can provide more services at a more rapid pace.

Our employees pass a probation period, and if they meet our standards, we hire them. Our doors are open to everyone. We have Syrian-Armenian employees, Persian-Armenian employees and employees from Yerevan. It’s clear that there are different approaches to working, but we will smooth them out over time.

For instance, we have different views on how to serve customers. We still need to work hard to please our customers. As soon as customers enter the salon, they need to feel that they are respected and that we had been waiting for them.

Hayern Aysor: Who are your main customers?

K. K.: Most of my customers are the locals. There is a delicate issue. Most of the Syrian-Armenians living in Armenia don’t have the opportunities that they used to have in Syria. In Syria, I had customers who had been coming to my barber shop for ten years. They would come to my house four times a week. Here, my customers visit the barber shop once every four months. The reason why is because they had more occasions to go out. Here they not only have fewer occasions, but also they don’t have money.

Hayern Aysor: Do your customers have different preferences?

K. K.: Working in Armenia is easier. The hairstyles in the Arab World were more fixed and complicated. In Armenia, people chose natural hairstyles. The expert also plays a huge role in changing a style.

Hayern Aysor: Do you see your future in Armenia?

K. K.: For us Syrian-Armenians, predicting the future is one of the hardest things to do because we don’t know what will happen in, say, a week. In terms of employment, we can have a good future in Armenia.

Our future also depends on the future of our hometown. We are currently living here and aren’t thinking about anything else.

Our mistake, at least mine, was that we couldn’t focus on where we should be. I’m currently focused on being in Armenia. If everything works out fine, I don’t plan on moving anywhere else, and I’m not even in the mood.

Hayern Aysor: What do you mean by ‘fine’?

K. K.: I mean being at ease and having a good job and a good future. Anything is possible for a person who works.

I have been running my barber shop in Armenia for nearly nine months, but I had had a barber shop in Syria for nearly a decade (I lost it because it was damaged after a missile was dropped). You can’t compare nine months to ten years. In Syria, I had eight employees. If we remained open for 24 hours, we would work 24 hours. Everything was stable. In Armenia, I still need time to grow and be on track. There might be small bumps on the road, but I’ll overcome them.

Hayern Aysor: Does everyone in Armenia really have the same opportunities?

K. K.: The fields vary and can’t be compared with each other. There are a lot of jobs in Armenia that you can do successfully, yet there are also jobs that are hopeless, at least for now. Hairdressing is one of the easy jobs.

Most Syrian-Armenians were businessmen and owned factories. They were all successful. Their experience is not a matter of discussion, but they can’t adapt here. There is a lack of opportunities in Armenia. The laws and bans are different.

The majority of Syrian-Armenians have been living in Armenia for the past three years. They have been able to get to know the city and learn about the laws and procedures to a certain extent. There are also Syrian-Armenians who wish to go to Europe or Canada.

I believe if you can create something in Armenia, it’s better to stay here and work a little harder than go to a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with the language and lifestyle.

If an Armenian has the opportunity, he should live in Armenia. We know what happened 100 years ago, and history repeats itself. To make sure that doesn’t happen again, we need to stay here. But of course, there have to be jobs, resources and opportunities…

Wherever we Armenians go, we will always be guests. Over the past three years, I have been traveling a lot due to my job and trainings, but whenever I reach the airport, I feel different. These are not merely words. I feel calmer in Armenia. But you need to have a job. The city is beautiful and the lifestyle is great, but if you can’t benefit from all that, then everything becomes pointless.

Lusine Abrahamyan

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