MIT and Harvard students and staff with Anna Hakobyan (photo: Aram Arkun)

Hakobyan Meets with Students at MIT, St. Stephen’s Elementary School

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Anna Hakobyan, the wife of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, spent an hour on Friday, April 5, with Armenian students enrolled at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as staffs from the two universities.

Over an informal lunch on the MIT campus, Hakobyan sat around a large table with about two dozen students and listened to their concerns, comments and suggestions. Much of the discussion took place in Armenian, though some students switched to English.

After the students (many of whom were from Armenia, Georgia or the Middle East) and faculty members introduced themselves, Hakobyan addressed them. “I am glad to meet all of you. When I look around I only feel pride” to see representatives of Armenia everywhere. “It shows the strength of our country,” she said.

From left, Hovhannes Ghazaryan, Anna Hakobyan, with students, including MIT Student Society president Siranush Babakhanova  (photo: Aram Arkun)

Much of the students’ concerns revolved around the cost of education and the implosion of the Luys Foundation, a government-linked entity which raised fund in the private sector. Luys, which had provided funds to deserving Armenian students studying abroad for years, was shuttered after the collapse of the previous regime. She asked the students for their suggestions especially with regard to the My Step (or Im Kayl) Foundation she founded in June 2018, which seems poised to pick up where the disintegrated Luys Foundation left.

Hakobyan was accompanied by Hovhannes Ghazaryan, the executive director of My Step Foundation. Ghazaryan, himself a Luys scholarship recipient, agreed with the students that the need for easier terms for repayment of tuition is needed.

“We are taking into consideration the Luys experience. We are here to finance the program,” he said.

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Others around the table suggested that the government of Turkey annually fully underwrites the education of about 30 students at top universities in the US, an example for Armenia.

Harvard Armenian Students’ Association president Cristopher G. Patvakanian, standing, with Hovhannes Ghazaryan, Anna Hakobyan and other students

Some of the students suggested more funds from the government, in return for a promise by the students to return to Armenian.

“Let them know how academia functions in America versus Armenia,” one said.

Another student suggested bringing students to the US for shorter periods of time, a year or a semester, letting them absorb and in turn disseminate the western educational system. That way, the process will be far less expensive for the government as well as the students.

Yet others suggested that the government share the emails of the students studying abroad with newcomers so that they could readily find a community away from home.

Hakobyan noted that she could only spoke for herself, rather than her husband, but stressed that she wants Im Kayl (My Step)to continue. “I said from the first day that continuity is very important,” she said. Even when her husband is not in power, she said, the organization should still be in place and be passed on to the spouse of the next premier.

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In addition, Hakobyan noted happily that before the Velvet Revolution, when she visited oversees especially in the West, she would be treated in a dismissive way. Now, however, post-Velvet Revolution, “You see envy from leaders. There is a new attitude toward us,” she said.

Among the faculty present were Prof. Lerna Ekmekçioglu and Prof. Areg Danagoulian (Nuclear Science and Engineering) of MIT, who were the co-organizers of the event, along with Lisa Gulesserian of Harvard. The students were led by President of the MIT Armenian Society Siranush Babakhanova and Cristopher Patvakanian, president of the Harvard Armenian Students’ Association.

Prof. Lerna Ekmekçioglu (photo: Aram Arkun)

Ekmekçioglu, a historian of the modern Middle East and an affiliate of the Women and Gender Studies Program as well as the Center for International Studies at MIT, thanked Hakobyan for stopping at MIT, in light of her very tight schedule.

“This is a particularly historic moment,” she said, adding “how proud we are as Armenians” with the non-violent revolution.

Visit to Armenian Elementary School

On the same day, Hakobyan visited St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown, accompanied by the Ambassador of Armenia to the US Varuzhan Nersesyan, Ghazaryan and the director of City of Smile Foundation, Ester Demirtshyan.

At St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School

Hakobyan received a warm welcome from the students, teachers, administration and the pastor of St. Stephen’s Church, Rev. Antranig Baljian. Two students greeted Hakobyan with the traditional bread and salt, wearing Armenian national costumes. The rest of the students, waving Armenian flags, sang the Armenian National Anthem.

In her welcoming remarks Principal Houry Boyamian spoke about the school, explaining that in the Greater Boston area, where some of the best public and private schools in the US can be found, St. Stephen’s maintains high educational standards to encourage parents to send their children to an Armenian school. She noted that every year, in May, the school organizes a trip for students in grade 5 to Armenia. Boyamian concluded her remarks by wishing Hakobyan success in all her charitable work.

The students presented a short program, then Hakobyan and her delegation visited the classrooms and interacted with the students.

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