I want to encourage all the Armenians out there to come and share their experience and expertise with us. Regardless of our birthplaces, we are all Armenians and this is our only homeland.
This is a story of a remarkable partnership between a local Armenian and a diasporan. One longing for a life back in her homeland and one for a lifelong passion, their common love for their homeland resulted in the foundation of a construction school, Varpetats.
A repatriate born and raised in Armenia, Shoghik, when did you leave the country and what brought you back here?
- After graduating from school I moved to Russia to continue my studies. I knew from the very beginning that I had to come back but it took me rather a long journey until I made it back to my homeland. I moved to Israel after receiving a degree in physics in Saint Petersburg. As demands were low in physics, I switched majors and studied programming. Six years later, I received a job offer in Canada and relocated there in 1997. Since my ultimate destination had always been Armenia, I came back home when the pandemic started using telecommuting to my advantage. The decision was made long before the second war in Artsakh, and I even had a place to settle. In fact, Karen and I crossed paths by the virtue of my decision to construct a little place in Armenia.
Karen! Tell us a little about how your journey started.
- I was born and raised in Yerevan and I have lived all my life here. To my and everyone’s surprise my journey of career discovery started with music. Not a musician by choice, I joined the Army and during my time there I was admitted into a law school. I tried a little to find a job after graduation but I realized that I had little enthusiasm for being a lawyer. So I enrolled in the Polytechnic University of Armenia and eventually started my career in construction, my life-long passion. Afterward, I set up my own construction company in 2002. I don't know how Shoghik found us but thanks to my business and her project we made friends and came to think of having a construction school. She realized that there was a shortage of workforce in Armenia and in fact, that was how the initial idea emerged. Shoghik and I never lost touch since the end of her project, even when I went to war.
I defended our positions until 15 December 2020. I saw how eighteen-year-old soldiers knew little about the structure of the trenches, sanitary ware, and construction. One might think this knowledge is unnecessary but in fact, by putting this knowledge into practice they would have been capable of building and furnishing trenches that could have protected lives. There’s an old Roman saying that says soldiers are not only fighters but also construction workers who know how to build bridges for their troops to cross when they conquer new lands.
We made the decision to establish a construction school when I shared what I saw in the trenches with Shoghik. We both knew that we lost a generation in war. The growing need for workforce and construction facing extinction on the one hand, and encouraging the younger generation to stay in Armenia, on the other hand, were our major reasons to have this school. We want to set an example for our younger generation and help them realize that there is life in Armenia.
When was the school officially established and what kind of education does it provide?
- Varpetats was officially launched in December 2021. We have already formed the contracts of the students and consulted with the Ministry of Education. It’s a five-month supplementary program that the ministry has approved. Sanitary ware and electrical technology are the two main subjects covered now but later on, we need to teach all the construction-related subjects as well.
They receive their certificates upon completing their one-year internship. After five months of studying, they gain their practical experience at my construction company which is affiliated with the school. They are remunerated as part-time workers throughout their internship and the best ones receive permanent job offers at my company. The certificate is accepted by the government. Moreover, it meets international standards. It’s the same in Canada, you have to complete a 1600-hour and a 3000-hour internship to become a sanitary ware specialist there. That’s how we agreed on the five-month course and the one-year internship.
In addition, we want them to learn everything from theory to work ethic. They need to realize that this is a service-providing industry requiring satisfactory and professional manners.
More importantly, this program is going to be an inclusive education. We want people with disabilities to join the program. The program will enable them to find jobs, and support their families instead of relocating to other countries in search of comfort in their lives and opportunities to work. It’s no secret that people with disabilities are marginalized in Armenia despite their abilities to work.
The education at Varpetats is totally free of charge and the students study under the highly-educated masters working for my company. These masters bring a wealth of experience to our school.
What qualifications should the applicants have?
- Everyone between the ages of 16 and 40 can apply for the program. Then we conduct a round of interviews with the applicants to learn about their backgrounds. We have to know whether the applicant is from a disadvantaged family or not. The interviews are the only way we learn about their lives and background; In the case of applicants from disadvantaged families, we make sure their basic needs are provided when they attend the courses.
This might sound a little personal, but what is in this business for you and how does it get funded?
- Our school is an LLC, implying that Shoghik and I take care of all the expenses. We wanted Varpetats to be a private school so that we could decide what’s best for our students and the school without depending on anyone.
Has the school started to welcome its students?
- We have one electrical technology and two sanitary ware students already. One of them is from Syria, thanks to Repat, and the other two applicants are from Yerevan and Artsakh. Our Artsakhtsi student is a former student of Yeznik school, the school that we are planning to have collaborations with in the future. Yeznik school now has 170 students and they are willing to help us with their teams.
Where we are sitting right now is the space we use to hold our classes. We also have a bigger space where we will move when the population of our school grows larger.
Karen! What is your message to the diaspora?
- I believe that repatriation brings more professional experience to Armenia. From the result of all these years of collaboration between the diaspora and local Armenians, amazing projects have been carried out. I want to encourage all the Armenians out there to come and share their experience and expertise with us. Regardless of our birthplaces, we are all Armenians and this is our only homeland. I would also like to mention that Varpetats is going to be the first school of its kind and therefore open to new ideas and initiatives. We are creating something unique together with our students.
Regarding your message, Shoghik, what would you like to address to the diaspora?
- We want to bring life back to our nation after the tragic war of Artsakh. Our goal is to turn a profit here by increasing the number of people entering the workforce.
Here is my message: Come and create! Come and Build! Bring your businesses here because there is life in Armenia!
Interviewed by Dzovag Soghomonian
Written by Annie Nazari