Poised over a table of accounting students in the tutoring center, Talar Hanounek’s bright eye contact and brighter smile suggests a focused woman. But her serenity belies a background upset by conflict and war.
Hanounek is a single mother of twin six-year old boys who emigrated from Syria in 2015 due in part to a difficult divorce and partly because of the war. Aside from parenting her sons Zohrab and Khoren, Hanounek tutors at Pierce College and attends her last semester of classes in her Accounting Master’s degree program at California State University, Northridge.
In spite of the ongoing conflict between ISIS and the Syrian military, Hanounek said she and her family lived comfortably in their home country and had a very good life.
Hanounek said she was born in the States, but she was raised in Aleppo, Syria by two Armenian engineers. Hanounek said she spent her summers in Kessab, a small village along the Mediterranean Sea close to all-natural loreal trees.
In Kessab, Hanounek said her father constructed 10-12 distinct homes and an organic soap factory, but didn’t imagine at the time that he and his family would have to use their vacation home there as a refuge from the conflict in Aleppo.
Hanounek said that, in 2014, the growing intensity of the war in Aleppo, including the lack of electricity, caused her family to deviate from their normal winter-summer housing rhythm and relocate to Kessab for the winter months.
“So when ISIS came, we said ‘let’s go spend the winter in that house,’” Hanounek said.
Hanounek said her family was preparing a Mother’s Day meal two weeks after they arrived in town when friends called and shared that they had heard rumors about a potential ISIS invasion of their refuge, which was only a stone’s throw away from Turkey.
“I didn’t realize that night would be my last day at the house,” Hanounek said.
Hanounek said she and her family were awakened by another phone call.
“Our friends called us again and told us we need to leave everything. ISIS attacked, and who helped them? The Turkish army,” she said.
Hanounek said she woke up to the sound of rackets all around her and that her departure was fraught and chaotic.
“Me, my twin boys, my mom, my dad, my sister and our two servants didn’t take anything. I was wearing PJs,” Hanounek said.
Hanounek said the Syrian Army helped citizens of Kessab escape by opening roads, which allowed her and her family to return to Aleppo.
“That was the last day we were in that house. I loved that house, I have memories from my childhood there,” Hanounek said.
Hanounek said the ISIS occupation was short-lived, and two months later, when her father returned, their home was still intact, though in no shape to live in. Similarly, the soap factory was out of commision because the expensive machinery used to process the natural ingredients had been sold in Turkish markets.
Hanounek said the wrecked family piano, torn art created by her father and drowned icons were hard for her father to process upon his return, and that the messages her family received from their former gardener were unpredictably disturbing.
“He took a picture of our two dogs and sent my father the picture and said, ‘Look, I’m going to kill them.’ He said, ‘See, I’m sitting in your house,’” Hanounek said.
Now, Hanounek said she balances her identity as an accounting tutor in her last semester of California Stat University, Northridge’s Accounting masters program. Hanounek attributes her academic success to God and a support system made up of her family and academic advisors.
Stefan Ignatovski, accounting professor, said Talar was in all of the classes he has taught in Pierce College.
Ignatovski said, in Hanounek’s case, honesty is really the best policy.
“She knows how to work hard. She’s very motivated and she wants to take every opportunity,” Ignatovski said. “She has a strong intellect and doesn’t shy away from sharing her knowledge with others. She’s the student every professor wants.”
Hanounek said that she greatly appreciates Ignatovski’s inspiration as a teacher.
“Professor Stefan is one of the best accounting professors at Pierce. He was my advisor in everything, motivating me in everything. I owe this guy, really,” she said.
Hanounek said Ignatovski is responsible for convincing her that she should apply for her master’s degree rather than pursuing an undergraduate education she already received in Syria, where she received a bachelor’s degree in business management with a specialization in marketing.
Hanounek has maintained a position as an accounting tutor at the Center for Academic Success (CAS). Crystal Kiekel, the director of CAS, said Hanounek’s commitment to the students and the process of learning has repeatedly awed her.
“There have been multiple occasions where when I arrive to campus around 7 o’clock, Talar is already here. I will step out of my office periodically, and she seems to never move, when the day is over it appears as if she has down 8 hours of work, without stopping for a break once,” Kiekel said.
Kiekel said Hanounek’s passion for her chosen field mark her as a positive example to those she works with.
“She has a certain excitement that is transferable. She can transfer her joy for learning to others, which is a key quality of a good educator,” Kiekel said.