“I Haven’t Felt Foreigner in Armenia, Not A Single Day”. Syrian-Armenian Repatriate

Because of the war in Syria, three partners – Hakob Margaryan, Hovsep Gasbaryan and Gevorg Muratyan relocated to Armenia. In Yerevan, they established the “Mandalun” restaurant, which is a place of choice for many. In the restaurant designed with Arabic style, Armenian and Arabic cultures cross each other.

 The following is an interview “Hayern Aysor” held with Hakob Margaryan, one of the co-owners of the restaurant, who came to Armenia for the first time four years ago and is not thinking about moving elsewhere. He was able to succeed in Armenia with his friends and establish himself.

 – At the beginning of our talk please tell us about your roots. Where are you ancestors from?

– I was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, but my ancestors were from Sassun. When the Syrian war started we decided to move to Armenia with my family and to continue our restaurant business here. I have been living in Armenia for four years; my partner Gevorg arrived two years ago although he has been in the restaurant business much longer than me.

 I am living in Armenia with my parents, my wife and children.

 – When did you establish the restaurant “Mandalun”?

– This is our joint business Hovsep, Gevorg and me. We had the same business in Syria. When we first came to Armenia we started with a small café. After one year in business we felt that it is successful. The number of our customers was growing and we needed to enlarge the café to receive them adequately. Therefore, we decided to establish the “Mandalun” restaurant.

 – Who are your permanent customers?

– The bulk of our customers are the Armenians from Lebanon, Syria and the US, although we have quite a large number of locals too. Our customers like our cuisine, the atmosphere and the music we offer. Birthdays and other social gatherings are organized at “Mandalun”, which our partner HovsepGasparyan makes more enjoyable; he is a well known singer within the circles of our diasporan compatriots and he sings at the restaurant on Saturdays and Sundays.

 – Which country’s cuisine is offered at “Mandalun”?

– We offer Arabic and Armenian cuisines, although our Syrian-Armenian cuisine is not quite like the Armenian kitchen because we use much more spices.I myself am a professional chef and I understand the types of spices. If here only black and red pepper are used when preparing dolma, we use many more different spices.

 – Wasn’t it difficult to continue your business in Armenia?

– Definitely there were difficulties at the beginning. That’s why we started with a small café that still operates in the centre of Yerevan. But we were able to gradually conform. You need to put a lot of thought to be able to start a business and you need to offer the right product to attract customers.

 In my opinion its easier to work in Armenia than in other countries, because the competition abroad is stiff. Outside, you need to offer things that can bring you fame and recognition. But in Armenia the competition is soft; if you offer good stuff, you achieve success at once.

 Until the war in Syria I never thought about moving to Armenia, but all my expectations were met here. We were able to adapt and work. I am not thinking about leaving the homeland anymore. Life here is more comfortable and our business is thriving. I have a lot of friends and relatives in Armenia. I have not felt as a stranger not for a single day.

 Tatev Davtyan

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