We are thrilled to welcome Sosy Mishoyan and her family to Michigan as she accepts the position as the new Western Armenian Language lecturer.
CAS director Gottfried Hagen recently spoke with Professor Mishoyan about her background and her vision for teaching Armenian at U-M.
Please tell us about yourself and your beginnings as a teacher of Armenian.
I was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, and graduated from Karen Jeppe Armenian College. I possess a bachelor’s degree in Arts and Humanities from Aleppo State University, which I attained through the English Language and Literature department. I earned another bachelor’s degree in Armenian Studies from Hamazkayin Institute in Aleppo. I also underwent pedagogy training at the ‘Spyurk’ Scientific-Educational Center situated in Yerevan, Armenia. I worked as a Western Armenian language teacher at Aleppo Azkayin Haigazian School and Karen Jeppe Armenian College until 2014 when I had to leave Syria with my family due to the dire situation caused by the Syrian war.
How is the life of the Armenian Community in Syria? How do they cope with the civil war?
Before the Syrian Civil War, Aleppo had a thriving Armenian community of around 40,000 people. However, the war caused significant damage, displacement, and loss of life, leading many Armenians to leave the city. Despite the decreasing number of Armenians now in Aleppo (around 10,000), efforts have been made to rebuild and support the community. The Armenian language plays a crucial role in the community. Armenians speak Armenian in their households. Additionally, daily schools, alongside the governmental program conducted in Arabic, teach the Armenian language, literature, history facts, and culture to students of all ages. These schools aim to preserve the cultural identity and linguistic proficiency of the students. Churches and community centers serve as important hubs for the community, hosting various events in Armenian. Cultural events and organizations celebrate Armenian heritage through language, music, dance, and art. The Armenian language is also disseminated through a weekly newspaper and publications. Overall, the Armenian language is an essential part of daily life, contributing to the community's cultural identity and preserving its heritage.
What was your experience moving to Armenia?
After moving to Armenia, I obtained a master’s degree in Armenian language and literature from Khachadour Apovian University in 2017. I then worked as a linguist in the Western Armenian Department of the Hrachia Ajarian Language Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia. In Yerevan, as you know, the official language spoken is Eastern Armenian, which differs from the Western Armenian commonly used by the Armenian diaspora. Recognizing the limited demand for Western Armenian in Yerevan, I developed an online course exclusively dedicated to teaching Western Armenian, teaching to individuals who were eager to learn but had not had the opportunity. I was honored to have had students from different parts of the world, including respected Armenian scholars and writers residing in the United States. Additionally, I worked as an editor for Vlume e-books, improving access to Western and Eastern Armenian texts, and served as an online spell checker for Zartonk Daily Newspaper in Beirut. I have also contributed to publications in Boston as the Armenian correspondent for Armenian Weekly.
What is it like to teach Armenian at U-M?
I have a special opportunity as a faculty member at the University of Michigan to preserve Western Armenian and educate my students. My previous experiences teaching online in Armenia and in-person in Syria have prepared me for this new role. I recognize that Middle Eastern Armenians and those in the West have different needs and experiences due to their distinct linguistic environments. The Armenian language holds immense importance for diaspora Armenians, as it serves as a link to their heritage and elicits intense emotions and memories. My students tell me that my words remind them of their grandmothers, I often receive comments like, “You speak just like my medz mama (grandmother)”. So, by adapting my teaching methods, I am driven to empower them to connect with their roots and embrace the beauty of language.
How has your experience in Michigan and U-M been so far?
On December 23rd, the day of my arrival with my family, we were surprised by the extreme winter cold in Michigan. There was an unusual thunderstorm, and the local people told us that they hadn’t seen one like it for a long time. However, we also experienced warm greetings and smiles from the friendly people during our sunny neighborhood walks. At the university, I've encountered a respectful and professional atmosphere, creating a peaceful work environment. As a newcomer, I still have much to explore and learn.
Finally, tell us about your plans for the future!
I joined ‘’The Seeds of Peace’’ project, which brings together Armenian, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish languages through the Middle East Studies Department at an R-1 university. The project encourages students from different language backgrounds to recognize the differences and to find similarities between cultures connected to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Our main goal is to promote inclusive language learning and foster better understanding among individuals. I’m happy to be part of this project and to work with my colleagues and students. The project is scheduled for the Winter semester.
In the future, I hope to resume the research plan I had temporarily paused. During my time in Armenia, I worked on my PhD dissertation, which I recently paused due to my role as a program developer at the university. I have now returned to working on it actively. My research is titled ‘’The Dialectical Influence on Armenian Diaspora Literature’’. In this study, I explored the inclusion of loan words in Western Armenian, shedding light on how Western Armenian writers brought their dialect from Western Armenia, impacting their literary creations. This research offers insights into language richness, cultural practices, traditional sayings, greetings, and even curses used. I will delve into these elements, including Western Armenian’s grammar and word etymology.
However, my current major dream is to turn the new program I am developing into a book or an App. As time progresses and technology evolves, we must strive to keep up with the times by utilizing easy applications that enhance language learning, making the process enjoyable and engaging.