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Q&A with Dr. Arpie Balian: Why Should We Support the AUA for Syrian Armenians Campaign? Part I

4 min read

YEREVAN, Armenia – Earlier this week, the American University of Armenia (AUA) launched the AUA for Syrian Armenians campaign in order to raise money for AUA Extension’s Syrian-Armenian assistance program. In this interview, Director of AUA Extension Dr. Arpie Balian, one of the driving forces behind the assistance program, shares more about how the program began, why it has been so popular, and who can benefit from it.

How did AUA Extension’s Syrian-Armenian assistance program start?

The Syrian-Armenian assistance program began as an idea that President Boghosian and I had in the early months of 2012. Our hearts went out to those Syrian Armenians who had fled Syria and were here in Yerevan feeling displaced and desperate for help. As you are aware, hundreds more arrived in Armenia in the later months of that year. An entire generation of children and youth found themselves away from home and deprived of their basic rights to protection and education. We immediately recognized that we could do something within the AUA mission. That is how we started the program back in the second half of 2012.

What exactly is the program?

Our program is modeled as “Learning for a Better Future” and does not only reach out to needy families. Our early assessment showed that even the relatively well-to-do families arrived in Armenia with limited resources. Thus the AUA Extension Program for Syrian Armenians is designed to assist all those who arrived in or after April 2012 when the crisis in Syria escalated. This assistance program is open to any Syrian Armenian who has the documentation attesting to that. Any Syrian Armenian fifteen or older can take up to two courses offered by AUA Extension for free. This includes all courses that AUA Extension offers—including General English and all preparatory courses for admission to our own or other Western style universities that require GRE, TOEFL iBT, SAT, etc.; We also have offered under our “Learning for a Better Future” for Syrian Armenians Armenian, Spanish and French language classes, plus the Women’s Entrepreneurship training and all other management courses in our catalog.

Who can benefit from this program?

We will not turn away any Syrian Armenian. We’ve had people from age 15 up to age 50 taking our English courses. There’s also a generation of refugees who are in high school and university who can really benefit from the program because they are prospective candidates for our undergraduate and graduate degree programs.  Just as many have, more Syrian Armenians can benefit from our English language courses and from our standardized test preparatory courses so that they can apply to AUA. Last year we had students who weren’t ready to go into our degree programs right away, but we were able to prepare them on time to apply and get admitted to our undergraduate and graduate degree programs. This year, we expect to have more.

Who is eligible to be a part of the assistance program?

As I mentioned earlier, we don’t check for eligibility of need. Even if some very rich Syrian Armenians arrive in Armenia with nothing, how good are their assets left behind when they get here with limited cash? So that’s the reason why we don’t check for financial need. We have opened the program to all Syrian Armenians. This is in the form of relief – assisting Syrian Armenians with the goal of relieving some of their daily burdens. The timing was critical at the time we launched this program, and it is still critical now. We are giving them support so they can stand on their feet and build a better future for themselves; to help them get out of their depression; and to help them gain confidence. I believe our program has also provided the moral support that displaced people need so much.  The mere fact that they end up in the same class together has provided support beyond learning.

What courses have been the most popular?

Of all the programs, English has been the most popular because most people who found themselves here with nothing to do immediately took advantage of our “Learning for a Better Future” program.  Our professional courses, particularly management and marketing courses have been more popular with those who have higher education.

As to our Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, in 2012 we dedicated one full class to Syrian-Armenian women and it and it was very successful. They participated subsequently in an exhibit AUA Extension organized in October 2013 and almost a dozen from that class exhibited their products. Indeed, it was very encouraging to witness how those Syrian-Armenian women are looking for ways to launch their small businesses, even if working from home at the start.

Why do you think the program has been so popular?

Your program is as good as the students you put out. They are your best word-of-mouth promotion of your program. People brought people. That’s the reason why it became so popular. And frankly, when you’re very depressed—these are displaced people; when they find help in AUA Extension, when they find a helping hand and people trying to reach out to them – that alone is good for getting them out of their depression in a way. Our program has been therapeutic as well—as many of them have stated. This is the reason why the program has been very popular.

In fact, the popularity is also measured by the number of people we have on our waiting list. We are struggling to get new funding for the program. We don’t want to turn these people away. We want to be able to give these Syrian Armenians the help that we can.

To learn more about the AUA for Syrian Armenians campaign, please click here.



Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.





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