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Armenians from Syria enroll in Beirut

Classes at Lazar Najarian-Calouste Gulbenkian School in Aleppo are still being held despite being frequently suspended due to the violence in Syria.

The school, which has graduated thousands of students since 1954, might see many of its students graduate from Lebanese schools instead as battles engulf the city, the Daily Star writes.

The institution’s high school, built in the city’s Azizieh neighborhood in honor of Armenian businessman and philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian, has many students fleeing to Armenian communities around the world as the violence in Syria rages.

The school in Aleppo was among many that were built to accommodate the academic needs of a growing population of ethnic Armenians, whose ancestors had survived the Armenian Genocide less than half a century earlier.

As the schools face an uncertain future in war-torn Syria, hundreds of Armenian students are enrolling in Armenian schools in Lebanon while maintaining hope that they will attend college back home despite the continuing violence.

“Returning to Syria is on the mind of most of our students from Syria,” said Ara Vassilian, the general director of schools affiliated with the Armenian General Benevolent Union.

Education costs for students coming from Syria to AGBU schools are covered in large part by the nonprofit organization, which relies heavily on donations made by philanthropists and the Armenian Diaspora.

An estimated 120,000 Armenians live in Syria with the majority centered in Aleppo. Like other Christian communities, they are worried that the ongoing war will permanently displace them.

At three of AGBU’s schools in the Metn towns of Sin al-Fil and Dbayyeh, there are at least 100 Syrian Armenian students who have escaped the violence along with their families. More arrive each week while only a few trickle back, due to the expensive living conditions in Lebanon.

Many other students have enrolled in other Armenian schools across the country, but no official numbers have been announced yet, as the figure steadily rises.

Although hundreds of Syrian Armenians have fled the unrest and sought refuge in Armenia, many families have preferred to move to Lebanon and other countries with vibrant expat communities due to the wide availability of schools with a Western Armenian curriculum and the similarity of the education system to that in Syria.

Unlike Eastern Armenian, the official language of Armenia, the Syrian community speaks Western Armenian and Arabic, as in Lebanon – but here, many students say they have found it difficult to study most of their courses in English.

While Lebanon’s educational system offers science courses in either English or French, most of the courses in Syria are taught in Arabic, leaving English as a third language.

AGBU schools have been holding intensive English language classes on Saturdays since the beginning of the academic year to help Syrian students catch up.

The schools have also dedicated weekly classes to discussions about major issues facing students in their day-to-day lives.

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