After the collapse of the USSR tens of thousands of Armenians from Armenia and other countries of the former Soviet Union decided to relocate to the Central and Eastern Europe. For many of them, the Czech Republic was merely a transit route to Western Europe, but some were forced to stay, many of whom having no permission to live and work.
The number of Armenian Community in Prague has never been constant – some of the Armenians managed to move to the West, some of them have returned to Armenia. In the Czech Republic many of the remaining Armenians earned their daily bread working on construction sites, but also as successful businessmen, scientists, artists and athletes famous throughout Europe.
The idea of creating an Armenian Saturday school in Prague had been suggested by some active members of the Diaspora in 1996. In February 1997 the school started its work, with founder-teachers Armen Koloyan, Alla Yesayan, and Karine Paryan. Past teachers have also included Siranush Tonyan, Sona Atanesyan and Ripsime Nalbandian. After 10 years of establishment, the current composition of teachers consists of Armen Koloyan, director of the school; Larissa Grigoryan, head of the senior group; Angela Dadayan, tutor of the intermediate group; and Tsovinar Beybutyan, teacher of the youngest group.
Friends of the Armenian Diaspora and prominent Czech scientists and linguists Vaclav Cerny and Bohumil Palek have made invaluable contributions in the early stages of the creation of the school. Thanks to their selfless mediation, the Charles University, a leading institution in the Czech Republic, has agreed to provide four free classrooms to the Armenian Saturday School in its building, located at Celetna 20. Moreover, twice a year, the school is given a larger hall for the two traditional performances in January and May, on Christmas Day and the Day of the First Republic.
The studies in the school are conducted only on Saturdays. According to tradition, the school academic year begins on the second Saturday of September and ends on the Saturday which immediately precedes or follows May 28.
The school does not receive assistance from the Government of the Czech Republic, and does not collect fees. Parents pay a deposit of 300 CZK for textbooks, which were obtained with great difficulty from Armenia. The deposit is fully returned when the student returns the book to school in a well-preserved form. Parents sometimes give donations, which are gratefully spent on the needs of the school. All donations and expenses are carefully recorded and reports are provided to the parents.
The only mission of our school is the preservation of national identity of the Armenian children living in Prague. Therefore we only teach the Armenian Language, Literature, history of the Armenian people, and discuss issues of religion and the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church. We also teach our pupils folk songs and dances, and offer embroidery classes of the traditional Armenian style.
Most of the children originate from Armenian families based in Prague, and attend Czech, Russian and American schools. We know that in the playground, at home and even in the Armenian Saturday school, most of our children involuntarily start speaking Czech, Russian or English.
This phenomenon is typical for any diaspora. Psychologists confirm that the child quickly develops the local language, because that is the main language of his education and communication with peers.
Every parent is happy with the idea of their child learning foreign languages, but sadly, is realizing that the mother tongue is gradually displaced to the margins, giving place to a foreign language. This is what led us to choose this line from the poem of the famous Armenian writer Khachik Dashtents as the motto of the Saturday School of the Armenian diaspora in Prague:
“Around us many languages – ancient and modern,
Around us people speak foreign tongues,
Let us speak Armenian, my brother.”
*Head of the Saturday School of the Armenian Diaspora in Prague