By Hasmik Gyozalyan
Haiarpi Simonyan: “Learn the art of taking drastic steps!” continues to present interviews with young specialists having achieved tangible success in various spheres, sharing their successes, achievements, future plans and concerns.

Our interlocutor is Head of the Chair of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Pharmacognosy of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Yerevan State University, scientific worker of Yerevan State University and the “ArmBioTechnology” Scientific-Production Center of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, Candidate of Chemical Sciences Haiarpi Simonyan.

Haiarpi is a chemist/ecologist by profession. In 2001, she got accepted to the Department of Ecology of the Faculty of Chemistry at Yerevan State University. Right after graduation, she was included in the scientific group led by academician of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia (NAS RA), Doctor of Chemical Sciences, Professor Ashot Saghyan as a scientific worker. She deals with the synthesis of non-protein amino acids.

Since 2010, she gives lectures on the chemistry of natural compounds at Yerevan State University. In 2013, she was conferred the ranking of candidate of chemical sciences. She is a member of the jury for the chemistry tournament conducted by AYB Foundation and a member of the examination center of Araratian Bachelor’s Program. Months ago, the young scientist was appointed Head of the Chair of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Pharmacognosy of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Yerevan State University.

Based on studies conducted by the scientific group led by academician Ashot Saghyan at the “ArmBioTechnology” Scientific-Production Center of the NAS RA, a small production unit for the production of non-protein amino acids has been established, and for this the group received a state award in 2015 (granted in 2016).

Haiarpi Simonyan also participated in the Youth 2016 Awards held by the RA Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs. Haiarpi, please, tell us how did you start pursuing your career in science? What made you attracted to chemistry?

Haiarpi Simonyan: I was born in the Tsaghkahovit village, which is located on the slopes of Mount Aragats. My childhood coincided with a difficult period (earthquake, war). After the devastating Spitak Earthquake, my family and I settled in a district of shacks. However, in spite of all the hardships, those years were the most beautiful and most memorable years.

I was a very active and energetic child. It is even safe to say I was mischievous. When I started going to school, my relatives told my teacher that she didn’t have to feel bad about getting mad at me, if I misbehaved. Perhaps school immediately attracted my attention since I immediately became a disciplined pupil, much to my parents’ surprise.

I would dream of becoming a nurse. Like most children, it was also a profession that attracted me the most. In my graduating year, I began to seriously consider becoming a nurse and started

preparing for my admissions exams. However, at the last moment, I changed my mind. In 2001, I got accepted to the Department of Ecology of the Faculty of Chemistry at Yerevan State University. I could have chosen any field of chemistry (in fact, my father is a chemist), but I chose ecology because it was a relatively new profession and quite an interesting and tempting profession for me.

In 2006, I graduated and immediately joined the scientific group led by academician Ashot Saghyan. This was the start of my career…I first became familiar with the science and then grew to love it. You are involved in the synthesis of non-protein amino acids at the “ArmBioTechnology” Scientific-Production Center of the NAS RA. How are they applied?

H. S.: Amino acids are components of proteins and are classified under natural compounds. In other words, amino acids are the basis of life…

However, the amino acids that we synthesize are not part of the ingredients of proteins. The synthesis of those amino acids is a quite difficult and time-consuming process that is carried out in many stages. Why do we “tolerate” the loss of time and all the difficulties? It is because the final result is very interesting. This direction of synthesis ensures the optical purity of the final result.

It is known that the prevailing majority of drugs contain amino acids or peptides (compounds composed of several amino acids). Drugs containing protein amino acids decay and become embedded very quickly after entering a person’s organism; this reduces the impact of the drug. Our synthesized non-protein amino acids prolong the impact of a drug since they are not “recognized” by the ferments of an organism and don’t decay. It is thanks to that feature that non-protein amino acids play a pivotal role in pharmaceutical science. Amino acids also have an antibacterial effect and can prevent ferments. In 2015, your scientific group received a state award. Of course, this is a serious achievement…

H. S.: Based on studies, “ArmBioTechnology” Scientific-Production Center created a small production unit for the production of non-protein amino acids where we apply various methods of synthesis. I am glad to state that certain amino acids are also ordered by German and Austrian companies.

The award is the entire group’s achievement, but first and foremost, it is the achievement of our director. Our efforts were appreciated at the highest level, and of course, this binds us to make sure that evaluation is justified. What do you feel every time you see the result of your work?

H. S.: I have an indescribable feeling of satisfaction. It is the utmost pleasure when you see, touch and describe the result of your work. Of course, it is very important to present the result to the scientific community and the international community through articles and through

participation in different conferences. Our scientific group has published quite a lot of articles in periodicals that are internationally reputable and have a high influence coefficient. Irrespective of the field, each of us inevitably feels the “presence” of hardships, failures and disappointment in various stages of our careers. How do you overcome hardships?

H. S.: Problems sometimes seem more terrible than they actually are. I try to think that nothing lasts forever and that I can solve the particular problem by taking appropriate steps, not by doing nothing about it.

We need to acknowledge the fact that the reality is not as horrible since a lot depends on us. We can change the reality. We need to acknowledge this as a fact and take action, and we need to do it with a smile. In reality, there are more important phenomena in life.

People usually aspire to reach a high level and forget everything else since they consider that high level the most important. They suffer from the lack of what they don’t have. However, when they reach the goal, they realize that it didn’t bring them happiness. Meanwhile, there are details that are extremely important, and we don’t notice them. So, it is important to differentiate between what comes first and what comes second and avoid failure and disappointment.

Most importantly, one needs to learn the art of taking drastic steps in order to overcome hardships.

In his famous prayer, Exupery talks about the art of taking small steps. There is a philosophy behind that, but I attach importance to the art of taking drastic steps, especially when you hold a position that requires responsibility. At that moment, you might be forced to act in a way that you wouldn’t act in another situation, but the success of the particular task depends on your decision. So, you need to be more cold-hearted and, if necessary, take drastic steps. The art of taking drastic steps is still difficult for me, but I am on my way of becoming skillful.

The people around you can also help you overcome hardships. Moreover, the help doesn’t need to be visible…You have to be able to learn from people’s words and actions that which can help you. I thank God for family, friends and colleagues from whom I can always learn things… Just recently, you were appointed head of chair...What is your attitude towards success?

H. S.: What I am doing is not new to me, but it is more binding.

Behind my success, there have always been people who have trusted and believed in me. Sometimes I have even thought that my successes are not my merit, but the merit of those who believed in me, and I have always tried to meet the expectations of those who believed in me. My appointment to the position of head of chair was an evaluation, and I am working to make sure that evaluation is justified. As a young scientist, which problems of the field are you concerned about

H. S.: If we try to compare the working conditions of young scientists working in Armenia and abroad, we won’t have a picture that is reassuring, to say the least. The situation in Armenia is quite difficult psychologically and financially. There are many ideas, but limited opportunities to turn those ideas into a reality. Of course, thank God, we also collaborate with foreign partners, and this is a plus.

Fortunately, irrespective of everything, we have very young successful scientists who live in Armenia and manage to establish ties with foreign partners and share their experiences in Armenia. You also attend ethnographic dance lessons. Moreover, you are a member of a dance group and have performed with the group.

H. S.: Sometimes I think I was blind before seeing how Armenian ethnographic dances are performed. I had never known much about Armenian national dances when I was a child or even my years as a university student. One day, I found out that Karin Armenian Traditional Song and Dance Ensemble was hosting open lessons and I started to attend the lessons. Recreational groups soon began to be formed, and my group was called “Hai Kajer” (Brave Armenians).

What I am about to say about our dances might sound extremely patriotic and it is viewed as negative nowadays, but I have to say that Armenian national dances are not for refining the body or forming posture, but are for the shape a body in your type. My ancestors are from Mush, but nobody has ever told me how they migrated. I have visited Western Armenia…Of course, I won’t share all of my feelings that were contradicting and that I had throughout the whole trip, but when we reached Mush, I experienced things that words can’t describe…Nobody had ever told me about Mush, but some kind of memory awakened in me…What awakened was what was inside of me already. The same goes for national dances.

It has already been four years since our group was established, and we successfully participate in different competitions. I was told that dancing national dances is not your only preference. You also ski…

H. S.: I am not a professional athlete. I am not being immodest, but I must say that I am quite a successful skier. During the winter, I don’t miss the opportunity to ski.