Zepyur Ekmekjian-Reyisian: “We experienced many difficulties, but we have always continued to teach”

During the long military operations in Syria, most of our compatriots repatriated. Some of them settled in foreign countries, while others laid their lives on the line and stayed in Syria…Many Armenians of Aleppo didn’t leave their hometown. They even lived and worked under fire. One of those Armenians is the respected wife of Deputy of the People’s Council of Syria Zhirayr Reyisian, pedagogue Zepyur Ekmekjian-Reyisian. During my interview with her for Hayern Aysor, I became convinced once again that Armenian women, mothers and patriotic Armenian women are exceptional.

Karine Avagyan: Mrs. Ekmekjian-Reyisian, please tell us about your longstanding teaching career.

Zepyur Ekmekjian-Reyisian: I received my pedagogical education at the Armenian State Pedagogical Institute after Khachatur Abovyan in Yerevan, specializing in preschool teaching and child psychology. I have been teaching for 29 years.  In the beginning, I worked at a preschool, which we Syrian-Armenians refer to as a kindergarten. Later, in 2010, I started working in the preschool department, and I had just assumed office when the war broke out in Syria…We continued our work in very dire conditions. The class hours were set based on the conditions every year.

Karine Avagyan: Would parents let their children go to school in those dangerous conditions?

Zepyur Ekmekjian-Reyisian: It depended on the parents. Of course, there were children who would miss classes, yet there were also children who would never miss a class. When there was greater danger, the national authorities would issue an order to keep the particular school closed. The school where I was teaching was the Sahagian School, which is located in the New Village district. When the military operations began to become heated in that area in August 2012 (it was a very dangerous zone), the start of the academic year was postponed until the situation would be a little peaceful. The start of the school year was three months late. The Zavarian School and the Karen Jeppe College were located in this district…The New Village district is a densely Armenian-populated district. The three schools were located in that district, and it was impossible for the children to reach the school because they were the target of the snipers. Later, the bombings began. The Haigazian School in Salibeh district was in the same situation. The school year began three months later (on 25 December 2012) because it was insecure. The only school that was in a relatively peaceful area was the Gulbenkian School. The national authorities placed the safety of the children above everything else and preferred the Suleymanieh district. The classes were back on track quickly in December, and the pupils were called to continue their lessons in the building of Gulbenkian School. The four preschools and the college continued to operate with shortened class hours and a condensed schedule. Next year, the Sahagian and Zavarian Schools were moved to New Village, and the Gulbenkian and Haigazian Preschool and College stayed in the same place. After spending one school year there, all four schools were consolidated in the building of the Gulbenkian School the following year…The number of students dropped in that period. Some families settled in Armenia, others moved to foreign countries, and many settled in safer areas of Syria. In the 2015-2016 Academic Year, the Sahagian and Zavarian Schools operated jointly. The Gulbenkian and Haigazian Schools were joined together and had different administrators, and the kindergarten section was separated from the schools. I am the principal of the Sahagian-Zavarian School. The instruction at the preschools is for 6 years, after which instruction continues in the secondary school. The schools have been joined, but haven’t been closed down. They have their licenses. Some buildings are damaged and need to be repaired. As peace is being established, we have started holding our extracurricular events.

Karine Avagyan: Mrs. Ekmekjian-Reyisian, have you taught more or performed administrative tasks more? Which of the jobs do you love the most?

Zepyur Ekmekjian-Reyisian: I have only taught for a year, after which I have assumed responsibility for the kindergarten. Each of those jobs is unique and interesting, but working with children is the most pleasant. Besides teaching and administrative tasks, I am also involved in charity acts.

Karine Avagyan: Your job is not too easy. You are also the wife of political figure and journalist Zhirayr Reyisian, meaning your family is on the “hotline”. Isn’t it hard? There are two devoted figures in one family…

Zepyur Ekmekjian-Reyisian: Of course, it is hard, but we have managed to overcome the hardships and have consulted with each other in regard to many issues. We are lucky in the sense that we have always supported and encouraged each other.

Karine Avagyan: During the war, many Syrian-Armenians emigrated from Syria. Have you ever thought of leaving Aleppo?

Zepyur Ekmekjian-Reyisian: Emigrate? No…We experienced many difficulties, but we managed to stay in Aleppo and are now thinking about living in longstanding peace. I visit Armenia regularly. My two sons study at the State Engineering University of Armenia, and we are connected to Armenia. I am here to participate in a training course for enriching Wikipedia through Western Armenian. Naturally, I long for the Homeland during every visit.

Interview by Karine Avagyan

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