From Syria to Armenia to Minnesota

October 31, 2022

When Shaghek Manjikian was in fourth grade in Syria, she had to complete an assignment about where she saw herself in the next 10 to 15 years. She wrote that she wanted to be a lawyer to stand up for people and to be their voice.

“I was told I should take life less seriously,” she laughed. “But I’m so happy I didn’t listen to that advice.”

Manjikian is now completing a Master of Laws LL.M. degree at the University of Minnesota Law School under a grant from the Fulbright Program.

Finding the strength to succeed

Manjikian was born and raised in Syria. She received her bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Aleppo, but then civil war broke out.

“When you live in a warzone, you become just a number,” Manjikian said.

She began to write about her experiences and the people in her village as a way to humanize the conflict. 

“At the same time, it was important for me to find some happy endings to these stories,” Manjikian said. “Just to say even if we’re going to war, still we can find ways to live, succeed, love, and laugh.”

Her favorite piece is about how her hometown was seized and her family had to move to another city. She wrote how the people in the village are like birds, and how in the end, the sun will rise.

“We lost the nest and either we’ll go back to our old nest or we’ll build a new one,” she explained. “Either way we will find the strength to continue and build and succeed.”

Manjikian’s hope came true. After a few months, she and her family were able to return to their hometown.

Manjikian ended up moving to Armenia, where she holds dual citizenship, to go to the American University of Armenia for her master’s degree. There, she had the opportunity to represent Armenia in Erasmus projects, working with nongovernmental organizations on peacebuilding, human rights issues, and social inclusion of refugees.

Manjikian said Armenia was a “kind mother” for her after she was forced to leave her home, so she wanted to do something to help Armenia. She ended up applying to the Fulbright Program.

“I needed some tools, methods to start from,” Manjikian said. “Having quality education can be one of the best options. The connections, the knowledge, the practical experience here, I can use it to pay back Armenia.”

Advancing alternative dispute resolution

Shaghek holding books in front of the Law School's Walter F. Mondale Hall

As part of the LL.M. program, Manjikian is specializing in business law. 

“We need more lawyers in Armenia working in business law,” she said. “Especially arbitration.”

Manjikian is particularly interested in alternative dispute resolution, where businesses can settle disputes without going to court. She represented the American University of Armenia in a moot court related to commercial arbitration, and now she is on the international commercial arbitration moot court for the University of Minnesota.

The opportunity to focus on arbitration was a big part of why she wanted to come to the University of Minnesota Law School. But she also appreciates the variety of courses she can take here.

“I can choose courses related to arbitration and business law, but at the same time, I can also choose courses related to human rights,” Manjikian said. “I don't think these days, a good lawyer will only have knowledge in one area and just be limited to that area.”

It’s important to share everything she’s learning, Manjikian said.

“All the knowledge and information I’m gaining here, I don’t want to just keep them for me,” she said. “I want to share this knowledge and information. The more people who have the knowledge, the better we’ll be able to serve our country.”

The views and information presented here are Shaghek Manjikian’s and do not represent the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government, or the Armenian government.

Shaghek Manjikian holding a "proud" sign in front of a Minnesota Law photo backdrop