Discovering Armenia. The students from Alma Mater are bringing the Italian language to the city of Gyumri

Armenia, or Hayastan (Հայաստան) for its people, is today a young nation with an ancient culture, which finds its home on a plateau crossed by mountain ranges of volcanic origin, and which borders to the north with Georgia, to the east with Azerbaijan, to the south with Iran and to the west with Turkey. Its delicate geopolitical position has further strengthened the identity of a proud people who have historically shown great ethnic and cultural solidity. A people that today look to the West, also through the eyes of the students of the University of Bologna, who have been engaged for years in an exchange of cultures and knowledge with the sub-Caucasian country.

The project that brings numerous students from our university to the second most populous city after the capital Yerevan was born 10 years ago from the intuition of Dr. Antonio Montalto, honorary consul of Italy in Gyumri. Here, a few kilometers from the border with Turkey, they commit themselves for four weeks to teaching the Italian language to the local population, while deepening linguistic and cultural aspects related to their studies. 

Anna Sirinian, professor of Armenian language and literature, enthusiastically welcomed the proposal launched by Dr. Montalto. "Hosting every summer in Gyumri the students of the Armenian course represents a precious opportunity to enter the Armenian world of today," says Professor Sirinian. "It is a reciprocal, enriching exchange: through the teaching of Italian, the students of the Alma Mater are introduced to the Armenian reality, among the common people (the Italian course is open to all), and can in turn put in practice the linguistic and cultural notions learned during the lessons. Usually the experience - in which the University of Pisa (prof. Alessandro Orengo) also participates, and which this year, unfortunately, could not take place due to the coronavirus emergency - leaves a profound imprint on those who took part in it. Some of the students have, for example, clarified and strengthened their vocation to teach through it. I can therefore only draw a more than positive balance, and be grateful to Dr. Montalto for having given life and support to this initiative, which I hope will last for many more years."

"My first trip to Armenia was in 2014," tells us Rebecca Borsella, who graduated from Alma Mater in 2016 with an essay in Armenian Literature and Culture, and is today a high school teacher of literature. "The educational purpose of my trip was twofold: on the one hand, it was a unique opportunity to learn some modern Armenian, while on the other I could teach my language and culture to Armenians. I was extremely curious to know them better, whose history was practically the only thing I knew."

More recent is the experience in Gyumri of Susanna Lepri, currently concluding her Master in History at the University of Bologna with a thesis on the relationship between the Christian-Byzantine population in Anatolia and the heirs of Osman Ghazi (founder of Ottoman Empire, ed.). 
"In 2019, I was in Armenia for a summer school at the Mejlis Institute, based in Yerevan. Since I was already in the country, I decided to also join the Italian course project in Gyumri for four weeks, in order to spend a little more time in this interesting country and test my skills in something completely new." An experience that, despite the initial difficulties, undoubtedly strengthened Susanna's bond with the Armenian culture. “I am very grateful for the patience that Dr. Montalto and my students have given me. The first few days I didn't have a clear plan, but I was determined to give it my all. I'm not sure I was a great teacher, however, I managed to establish a strong friendship with most of the participants, and that's the most important thing in the whole experience."

The reciprocal understanding with the Armenian people has been immediate also for Rebecca. “In the month and a half I have spent in Armenia, there hasn't been a single day when I didn't feel at home, loved, welcome. The Armenian people are one of the friendliest and most welcoming I have ever met: no one has ever hosted me with as much love as they did with me,” she tells us. Although, sometimes cultural differences emerged. "I've learned over time that when Armenians say 'okay, no problem' that's when you really need to worry!"

According to Rebecca, one of the main similarities between the Italian and Armenian people is their tenacity, resilience, and ability to cope with even very difficult situations without getting discouraged. “Not only without getting discouraged, but also without complaining too much,” she adds. "I think of the resistance that the Armenians showed after the genocide, of how they tried in every way to defend and safeguard their land and cultura." 

And although relations with Turkish neighbors are still difficult today, the Armenian people manage to maintain their courtesy and tolerance firmly. “The most curious fact I would like to share is people's reaction when I said I am interested in Turkey and the Turkish language,” says Susanna. “In both cities, I have had a warm response. In Yerevan, half of the students in my school were Turkish. Even when I moved to Gyumri and introduced myself, my classes welcomed me with a big smile. Some students even spoke to me a little in Turkish."

The relationship of the Armenians with Italy is completely different. "I immediately noticed the curiosity of people towards my country, and also how well informed they were about Italy," continues Susanna. "It saddened me instead to see how many young Armenians think they have to emigrate abroad to have a better life."

A fundamental and strategic meeting point between Italy and Armenia is, according to Rebecca, the University itself. "If there is something that the Armenians care a lot about and that they have tried in every way to save from the hatred of genocide and the relentlessness of the time, it is their culture. The Armenians immediately understood that their books constitute their history, and for this reason, they must be defended, studied and loved, because they preserve their memory." In this historical moment, perhaps, even in Italy we should remember more strongly who we are. “We should defend our history and dialogue with it, learn from it. This is why I believe that Armenians and Italians need to meet more in universities, to remember their common Christian roots, and start afresh from these."

"Armenia is a country that has a lot to offer, and not just to us Italians," adds Susanna. "The University, as Rebecca has already mentioned, could and should play a key role in the development of the nation. We should focus on international students and attract them to the wonderful Armenian cities." In short, inter-cultural education should be seen as a vehicle for development and well-being, thus confirming the historical importance of universities and their students in building the future. 

"The students of the Alma Mater were great and played their role in a profound way," comments Dr. Montalto. "I believe that in the end each of them was able to write a beautiful page in their life, regardless of the Italian courses. The number of incoming students over the years has been significant. I remember with particular emotion the first time I presented the project to Prof. Gabriella Uluhogian (professor of Armenian language and literature at the Alma Mater from 1973-2004, ed.), who, with the intuition typical of the great, immediately supported the initiative. I am in turn grateful to the University of Bologna, to prof. Sirinian and to all the students for the beautiful experience so far lived." 


We are few but we are called Armenians. We do not put ourselves above anyone (...) Simply we know how to build from the rock, a monastery. How to make fish from stone, how to make man from clay. To learn to become the student of the beautiful, the kind, the noble, and the good (...) We have joined efforts for everyone, always. We plowed everywhere, we built bridges, we tied arches. We plowed everywhere and we brought forth crops. We gave everyone mind, proverbs, and songs. (...) We are few, yes, but we are Armenians. And we know how to sigh from yet unhealed wounds. But with a new juice we rejoice and we cheer.

- Paruir Sevak, Armenian poet

  • Discovering Armenia - Italian Consolate in Gyumri
  • Discovering Armenia
  • Discovering Armenia
  • Discovering Armenia
  • Discovering Armenia