Saturday, November 18, 2006 (Kolkata) :
A school in Kolkata has just celebrated its 185th anniversary. It’s not any ordinary school but one run by Armenians for Armenians from across the world.
Of 80 students, only two are Indian Armenian Christians, the rest are from Iran, Iraq and Armenia.
Merchants from the central Asian country came to Kolkata in the 16th century and now their progeny number barely 100, but the school is striving to keep India’s Armenian connection alive.
It was 185 years ago, a Kolkata-based Armenian merchant set up a school for children of fellow Armenians who had made the eastern city their home.
Later it gradually turned into an international educational hub for Armenian Christians worldwide.
In the usual Class I, students, all from Iran, are much older than regular school beginners.
The students do not know English and are being taught here how to speak it. Once they master it, they will go to appropriate classes.
But learning English is of paramount importance, in fact, the main reasons why they left Tehran for Kolkata.
"I came here to study because it is easier to go abroad from here for higher studies. And in Iran the standard of English was very low. We were doing three periods every day of one and a half hours and English only once a week. Here we do it every day and it is better," said Aden Dawoody, a student from Iran.
The Armenian School is affiliated to the ICSE board. Iran apart, most students in the school are from Armenia, one from Iraq and only two from Kolkata.
At one time, the Armenian population in this city numbered in thousands. But time and migration have reduced them to barely a hundred.
Zaveh Stephen, an Indian Armenian is one of the 100.
"I learn Armenian language and I am almost fluent in the language. Because mixing with the boys for so many years, it has almost become my mother tongue," said Zaveh.
But times have changed and the educational needs of the Armenians have changed.
Father Oshagan Gulgulian, manager of the school, feels they need to upgrade the facilities.
"The world is moving toward modern technology, computers. Instead of being simply an elementary school we need to change into more technical school. That is our future plan," said Father Gulguilan.
Kolkata’s Armenian community may be dwindling but they are determined to nurture Armenia’s ties with India, the shared heritage of 500 years.
No one put it better than a young Armenian girl, a student of class IX and a big Bollywood fan.
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