by SONA Karamyan, MALGORZATA Witczak
Naira Israyelyan is the owner of the Retro Hostel in Stepanakert in Nagorno Karabakh. She is also the first person in Karabakh who got the official guide license.
She was born in the north of Armenia in a small town where she finished school. Then she came to Yerevan for getting higher education. She studied International Relations at European National Academy. After graduating from university she worked in different offices in different aspects but she felt that it was not enough for her. “I wanted to do something which would be familiar to me, which I would like and it would be also my hobby. Two or three years ago I discovered that I love hiking. First I traveled a lot in Armenia and later I decided to turn my hobby into my profession”.
It was 2012 when Naira visited Nagorno Karabakh for the first time. She was writing an article in her university for her master degree. The topic was “Nagorno Karabakh conflict”.” I was writing a lot and I wanted to see the country about which I was writing. It was 21st of September, the Independence Day of Armenia and I think I found my independence that day, too”.
First time when she saw Artsakh she felt some indivisible bonds. She just needed to see this country at least once per month. As for moving there forever it came during years.
That time she had a depression and hiking helped her to understand herself better. She acknowledged that she really likes being outdoors. The company which was organizing these activities offered Naira to join them. Because they knew how much she loved Artsakh they gave her opportunities to have guide tours mainly in that land.
During that time she understood that the touristic infrastructure is quite developed but there is still a lack of cheap accommodations such as hostels and the prices of hotels are high. “People like me who want to visit Karabakh, might not have the opportunities to find cheaper accommodation”, she says. The company where she had been working tried to open a hostel but they couldn’t manage it. She decided to open it on her own. “For me running the hostel is not a business, this is an opportunity for communicating with tourists, introduce them Artsakh and give a piece of my love to others”.
Naira says that her friends always inspired and encouraged her. She was always been told that she is on the right way. In comparison with them her family was totally against this decision. They were afraid because Nagorno Karabakh is a conflict zone and there was time when she was going there secretly. During the time Naira’s parents got used to it. By the time she was offered a job in museum in Tigranakert.
To the question if it was difficult to run a business as a female she agreed because the society is not ready to accept this kind of situation. But for her own case she admits that it was easier, she has a lot of friends in this sphere and they didn’t let her to feel that difficulty.
Naira is happy with her decision about moving to Karabakh and she even can’t imagine regretting this. “The job didn’t brought me to Karabakh. It was my wish. My inner part wanted to live in this land. It was my spirit. And I am absolutely happy”, she added with the smile.
“I never get tired of the mountains which surround me. I never get tired of my job either”. She communicates with tourists, shares with them the history and sometimes tells the same story more than 4 times a day, but she does love it. Naira says that for her it’s a pleasure to give some tiny part of her knowledge and love. She admits that she might get disappointed in society, but Karabakh is not the society. Therefore she never gets tired of her land.
The most work in the hostel she does on her own, but if she needs some time to go out she has friends who help her. Naira has only one employer but he is a very good friend of her so they don’t have this relation: boss-employer. They share the income and help each other.
If Naira has a free time she is happy to join her guest and show interesting places but even if she is busy she tries to do her best for them to have a nice trip. In this case Naira shows them all beautiful and historical places on the map and the ways how to get there. “For me showing them the places is a pleasure and I do it as a friend that’s why I don’t charge any money for that”.
She realized that the majority of the guests are foreigners because for most Armenians it is not considerable to stay in one place with other people with different genders. For all clients Naira provides a queen bed, bathroom, tasty breakfast… everything what travelers need during their trip to feel comfortable.
There is a very big deference between Armenian and foreign travelers. She says that Armenians don’t travel to see new places only for being checked in. For them having a luxury accommodation like 5 stars hotel is a key question while for foreigners the place where they will sleep is a side issue. For them most important is discovering new places. Real travelers come to Artsakh to explore this country, to see this part of the world, get to know the culture and traditions. She explained that she is happy if she can present them Armenian culture and tradition and she feels proud of doing this.
The design in the hostel is in retro and it’s unique and unusual for Karabakh. It’s also connected to her taste because she likes everything related to retro: music, design, etc. She feels that she would like to live in one generation back. Naira says that she had started her business from the bottom, she got all furniture from her friends: chairs, tables, beds etc. This is also the reason why she called the hostel Retro. But she claims that if she would have huge amount of money to invest in her business she would buy all new furniture but still in retro style. “My friends helped me a lot and each corner in the hostel reminds me about them: one friend provided a chair, another one helped to hang the mirror etc. My friend see how much I love my job and if they have any opportunities they help me”.
Naira says that she would like to attract more tourists to stay at her hostel. She admits that there are still a lot of things to improve. She always asks her customers about their opinion, what they would like to see in the hostel in the future and she tries to follow their advices.
When there are no guests in her hostel she meets with her friends and they discuss the topic of improving the tourism in Nagorno Karabakh. First of all she would like that people over the world get to know about Artsakh. Tourism is not so much developed there . In her opinion people should look at the tourism not from the business perspective but for improving the community. She would like to change the attitude of people towards tourism and foreigners because they are considered to be a source of income. She always tells people to imagine themselves as being tourists in other countries. She also gives an example that if she would organize some guide tours by car she wouldn’t charge any money for this. “I would like to show them Artsakh not for earning money”. Naira Israyelyan also enjoys her work as a tour guide and wants that people consider her job as a serious one.