Thursday, 12 December

Hetq Talks to Charles Lonsdale; the UK Ambassador to Armenia

Charles Lonsdale: "Not only open borders, but more open atmosphere in Armenia" "I look back now and recall that there was a big sport field behind our house and how we used to run there. When I compare this to Yerevan I see how little opportunities there are for Armenian kids to play outside and then I really appreciate my childhood, how happy and lucky we were", Charles Lonsdale says, recounting his childhood. There were two children in his family: Charles Lonsdale has a sister who is 1.5 years younger and is an environmental scientist, or, as he says in Armenian, "bnapahpanutyan masnaget". The Ambassador was brought up in academic surroundings, in Oxford. His father was a professor in Oxford, his mother worked in university administration, ending as head of a college at Cambridge University. "When I was a little boy, I wanted to become an astronaut, but I had various ideals and they changed during time. My mother might have worked in the Foreign Office but until the 1970s women had to leave it if they got married. I believe I inherited from my mother the interest in the outside world and my love for travel", says the Ambassador. Mr Lonsdale has twenty years of experience in the diplomatic service in London and abroad. He was Second Secretary in Budapest in 1990-1993, First Secretary in Moscow in 1998-2003, and Deputy Head of Afghanistan Group in FCO London in 2003-2005. Before his appointment to Armenia, Mr Lonsdale was Deputy Head of Human Rights, Democracy and Governance Group in the FCO in London. "Any country is at first rather strange, and it takes time to adjust" The Ambassador says that after graduating from the university he applied for different jobs, including  the Foreign Office and Home Office. He says he was lucky to be selected by the Foreign Office.  "There is a specific thing about work as a diplomat: you can feel yourself more comfortable abroad than in your own country. Of course, any country is at first rather strange, and it takes time to adjust. But I’ve loved every country I've worked in, and I miss them". He always had a fascination with  South America, and hoped to work there but his career has led him in a different direction. "My work in Budapest was very memorable, especially as my first proper job abroad. So I was fascinated and excited. Russia is a huge country, I had an opportunity to travel a lot and discover it, although the job could be difficult since I was working on issues such as Chechnya, when we had to deal with a war situation. And I'm still in love with Armenia. The place you are at the moment seems the best". Charles Lonsdale loves his job, he says he always enters his room with a smile. But there are disappointment too: "There are times when you want to take a break, go back home, see your family, but of course I'm always happy to come back". Mr. Lonsdale believes that the embassy has a very good team and gives it 5 as a maximum score. "I am a realist with romantic tendencies" Interest in the world helped Charles Lonsdale to be successful. "I am a realist with romantic tendencies," he says.The number one principle for the Ambassador is to treat others the way you want to be treated. The Ambassador's friends are representatives of the diplomatic community, artists, policy analysts, businessmen and ex-pats, whose names he preferred not to publicise. The Ambassador has read Tumanyan, Narekatsi, Kuchak. He managed to read one of Tumanyan's stories in Armenian, though it took him some weeks to do it. "I regret that I can't read in Armenian. I depend on translation, but very few Armenian writers are translated". The last book Ambassador read was one by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. When it comes to music, Charles Lonsdale loves almost everything - from Bach to British or American modern music, preferably rock than pop. He prefers less known groups, such as Misty's Big Adventure from Birmingham. As to Armenian music, he's listened to Komitas, Arno Babajanyan and Khachatryan, and from modern music he likes the jazz band ‘Katuner’ (Cats) and Bambir. He often goes to concerts and exhibition halls, enjoys visiting artists in their studies and has even worked with one, Arthur Sarkissian. His office has pictures by Armenian artists, including Arthur Sargsyan, Gevorg Sargsyan, Vahan Topchyan, and Hakob Hovhanissian. The Ambassador's hobby is not only painting, but also open-air walks, spending time in nature, going to the gym. Regarding Armenian cuisine he likes "khash and khorovats", but particularly appreciates Armenia’s fruits and vegetables. He says the fruits and vegetables they eat in the UK are not so fresh and tasty. "The first word I learnt was "hametsek" "Mi bazhak sourch, khndrem. Mi bazhak sare garejour. Hametsek" - these are the first words that the Ambassador learnt in Armenia. He is still working to improve his Russian but would like to be able to speak Armenian at medium level at least. The British love animals, and when we asked Mr. Lonsdale if he lives alone, he said, "if we count out the cat, I am living alone". The Ambassador said it's much easier now to catch up with family and friends through email and Skype. But many of them have visited, and he's waiting impatiently for his mother's fourth visit to Armenia. "The most obvious difference is that the population in Britain is very diverse, and Armenia, if not monoethnic in reality, can seem like it. But the first thing that struck me here is the warmth and hospitality and the first word I learnt here was "hametsek" (welcome). Particularly when you're walking in the countryside, the people are extremely hospitable, whereas in the UK they are more cautious". The Ambassador told about how he met a shepherd in the mountains, who treated him to some sweets. "There are things I would love to see changed. I would love Yerevan to preserve its green territories, I understand that it was necessary in the past to cut trees for heating, but it's sad to see now that there are more cafes than trees. And it would be good for the drivers and pedestrians to be more careful and follow the basic rules. Armenians are very creative, they can always find smart ways through any situation, including on the roads. And Armenia faces some serious challenges, including the Karabakh issue, Armenian-Turkish relations, the economic crisis, fight against corruption, strengthening of the legal structure. Let it be not only open border, but a more open atmosphere more generally in Armenia". The Ambassador says there are many famous beautiful places in Armenia, such as Noravank, Geghard, but his favourite places are  the wilder areas, especially in Syunik. "One year, on November 1, I was walking in the Khosrov preserve to Havuts Tar and met a man who was enjoying a picnic with his family. He said "hametsek, hametsek", I said "thank you, but I should continue my way". He dragged me by the hand and set me down, We had a great time, he had a home-made vodka, they slaughtered a chicken. At first it was warm, then it snowed. That was a nice example of the things I love in Armenia, the nature, the history and the people". About the weather the Ambassador regretted that the last summer and winter had been quite similar to London and he's hoping for proper Armenian sunshine. The Ambassador doesn't exclude the possibility of marrying an Armenian Charles Lonsdale is not married and explains this by the nature of his job and also by the fact that young women nowadays wish to have their own life and careers.  "I'd love to be able to combine diplomatic and family life. This is my hope and dream". To the question what is important in a woman - beauty or being smart, he replied, "I love women with strong personalities. Of course it's nice if she's also beautiful. It concerns me the least whether she is good at housekeeping". And about marrying an Armenian the Ambassador responded - "why not, everything is possible".

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