Arshalouys Amsih: “Even though I am from Lebanon, it seems as though I was born in Nerkin Karmiraghbyur”

One of the best ways of promoting repatriation is the creation of teaching job opportunities, and one of those opportunities is the Teach for Armenia program through which 25-year-old Arshalouys Amsih has traveled from Beirut and teaches English at the school in the Nerkin Karmiraghbyur village of Tavush Province in Armenia. During my interview with Amsih for Hayern Aysor, I was more than impressed with Arshalouys’s dedication to her job and profession.

Hayern Aysor presents the interview to its readers.

Karine Avagyan: Arshalouys, I am very interested in your name. What does “Amsih” mean?

Arshalouys Amsih: My last name is of Arabic origin, but my father is Armenian, and I am a pure Armenian girl. The words “old Armenian” are stated in our passports. None of the last names of my relatives from my father’s side have the “yan” suffix. My father explained to me the meaning of the word “Amsih” by breaking it down into two components – habet (slave in Arabic) and mesih (Jesus in Arabic). In other words, Amsih is “servant of Jesus”. This is the explanation of our last name.

Karine Avagyan: Where did you receive your primary and higher education?

Arshalouys Amsih: I was born and raised and studied in Beirut. I went to an Armenian school. Starting from the 7th grade, I attended the Levon and Sosseh Hagopian Armenian College, after which I got accepted to the English Language Department at a Lebanese state university. Frankly, it took me a long time to choose my profession. I had chosen to become an economist in high school, but I realized that it wasn’t for me and chose pedagogy, particularly teaching English. I don’t regret it. I feel that I have truly found my place.

Karine Avagyan: Have you managed to work by your profession in Lebanon?

Arshalouys Amsih: No, I haven’t. Right after my exams, I moved to Armenia through the two-year Teach for Armenia program. My term is ending in a couple of months, but I really want to stay in Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, which has already become familiar to me. I am attached to the village, the people and most of all-the children. It is as if I was born here.

Karine Avagyan: Arshalouys, you are a bearer of Western Armenian, but the residents, particularly children of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur and the province speak in a dialect. Were you able to understand each other and overcome certain language barriers? Did it take long?

Arshalouys Amsih: I faced hardships in the beginning, but I managed to overcome them quickly. Sometimes when I tell the children to go home in Western Armenian (gnatseq doun in Western Armenian and gnatseq toun in Eastern Armenian), they look at me with amazement. When I say to them “toun” in a softer voice, they understand. However, I have started understanding the dialect of Tavush, and they already understand me. The children in the village are very simple and often naïve. When we had come to Yerevan to meet with the President ahead of the New Year, they would look at the enormous buildings, the government buildings and luxurious cars and villas with surprised looks and would express their amazement and admiration with words in their dialect…

Karine Avagyan: You overcame the linguistic barriers in a short amount of time, but was it easy for you to adapt to life and teaching in a distant village?

Arshalouys Amsih: When I was getting ready to come to Armenia, my parents thought I was going to come to Yerevan and agreed, but when they found out that I was going to live in a village, they disagreed. They eventually agreed and respected my decision. My mother visited me once. She compared the beautiful village with her hometown and village in Syria. I faced many hardships in the beginning. I wasn’t used to paying for water and electricity on my own, waiting in line at a bank, repairing broken objects or looking for a specialist to make repairs…In Lebanon I had never walked on muddy streets since all the streets are asphalted. When I go to school in the village, my shoes are filled with mud. The children also come with mud in their shoes. It is very important to have the streets asphalted, but there are so many other problems that one can’t even focus on the streets. Our school has great conditions. There is central heating, and all the classrooms and the school are entirely renovated. We have a wonderful principal who is attentive and generous and follows the learning process. When you visit our village, you will be amazed that there is such a school in the distant and bordering Nerkin Karmiraghbyur village of Armenia. Bordering villages deserve the best.

Karine Avagyan: How were you received when you first entered the village and later the school?

Arshalouys Amsih: I was received very well! I was surrounded by love and warmth. Now when there are only a couple of months left before my term ends, everyone wants me to stay. Principal Nara Papyan is also very interested. As for the residents of the village, I must say that they are very kind, loving and hospitable and always invite me over to their homes to drink coffee and offer me to stay with them. The villagers and the school are like my family. I don’t think there are bad people. You need to treat a person with love and see the good sides of that person, not the bad sides. I have no problem with human relations. I live in peace and with love in my heart.

Karine Avagyan: Can you share interesting stories that show the purity, simple-mindedness and straightforwardness of the children of the village and your pupils?

Arshalouys Amsih: Yes, there are many stories! They are so simple and straightforward that they ask me about my personal life and even offer to introduce me to men who can become a future husband. They ask me “Miss Arshalouys, do you have a boyfriend?” Of course, I smile and explain to them how schoolchildren should behave.

Karine Avagyan: Arshalouys, when you first came to teach at this school, which media outlets provided coverage of a young girl who had traveled from Lebanon to teach in one of the distant villages of Armenia?

Arshalouys Amsih: The first person who had an interview with me was a young girl from the American University of Armenia. She was surprised that I had decided to participate in the program and work in a village. Later, I was interviewed by a journalist from Ankakh newspaper. People are amazed that I work in a village and want to stay there. You know, I was born and raised in a city, but the village is not strange to me. There are wonderful people there, the nature is marvelous, and I am away from the tiring noise of the city.

Karine Avagyan: What about the danger of living in a bordering village? Aren’t you afraid? Have you ever thought twice about working in a village?

Arshalouys Amsih: I spent the first year teaching at a school in Berd, but later the school was joined with the high school and I was sent to Nerkin Karmiraghbyur. Of course, there is a danger. I especially get afraid going to school by car or bus in the winters because the green of the trees don’t conceal the cars, and the enemy’s positions are very close to the village (they are ready to target us at any moment). I won’t say I am afraid, but since the residents and children have no fear, I have no fear either. I consider myself one of them. This is also my village, the border of my Land. Even though I am from Lebanon, the important thing is that I am Armenian and my heart and soul are with Armenia.

Karine Avagyan: The program is ending in a couple of months, and your term will end as well. You are young and need a personal life. Will you stay in Tavush? Is there an opportunity for you to stay at the school? Will you return to Lebanon or will you stay in Armenia? What path have you chosen?

Arshalouys Amsih: The principal wants me to stay, but the program won’t fund me anymore. I will have to pay my rent and utility bills on my own. I told the principal that I live in Berd and come from there, but now I want to move to the village so that I can be closer to the villagers and interact with them. Now I am a little uncertain and am undecided. The most important thing for me is that I will continue to teach and not lose my potential. Everyone at the school wants me to continue to teach and stay in the village. They even want me to stay and get married in the village.

I am currently in my second year of studies for a Master’s Degree. I have a contract according to which I have to go to Yerevan for a week to present my modules. I do the rest online and interact with my lecturers via the Internet.

Karine Avagyan: What do you admire about the residents of Tavush Province? What amazes you?

Arshalouys Amsih: When I was still in Lebanon, most Lebanese thought that the people in Armenia are lazy, but I realized that this is not the case and that Armenians are always creating something. What I admire about the Armenians of Tavush Province is their diligence. They create everything with the crops that they harvest and the goods that they collect in the winters. When you enter the home of any one of them, you will be treated to a variety of sweets and dishes.

Karine Avagyan: If, God forbid, the enemy unleashes military operation, where will you be?

Arshalouys Amsih: I will be with my pupils.

Karine Avagyan: What does the homeland mean to you? How do you feel when you say the word “homeland”?

Arshalouys Amsih: That is a tough question…For me, on the one hand, the homeland is pain and concern (we often sleep and wake up to the sounds of gunshots), and on the other hand, it is a great joy. For me, the homeland is the road leading to Tavush. When the driver enters Dilijan or Ijevan after passing the tunnel in Sevan on the way from the city to the village, I feel at home. It seems as though I am in the familiar Bourj Hammoud district of Beirut. All the trees and cliffs are familiar to me. I take the light and warmth with me. You won’t see such colors of autumn anywhere else in the world.

It is with these bright words and feelings that I end my interview with the young and patriotic teacher who is working in Nerkin Karmiraghbyur and who has not only fallen in love with the village and the pure and simple villagers, but has also started using the local dialect and the unique tones of the dialect in her speech that is a mixture of Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian.

Karine Avagyan

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