Julia Harley-Green

Julia Harley-Green: From the UK to Armenia with Loris Tjeknavorian

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YEREVAN-LONDON — Born and educated in Great Britain, writer, journalist Julia Harley-Green began writing professionally in Australia in the 1970s where she became a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Following her marriage to the Armenian composer/conductor Loris Tjeknavorian, she moved to New York in 1986. Three years later, shortly after the catastrophic earthquake in Armenia, they relocated to Yerevan where she wrote and presented English language programs on local television as well as teaching English.

She returned to the United States in 1992 and was based in Palm Beach, Fla, writing as columnist and contributor to regional newspapers and journals. While there, she also began working as a global volunteer travelling to several countries including Ukraine, Mongolia and Romania.

Her work has appeared variously in newspapers, literary journals and anthologies worldwide. Her short fiction and television scripts have won four awards.

She returned to live in London, England in 2015.  Her memoir, “Never in a Fishbowl” was published in Britain in September, 2022 and is available from YPDBooks.com or Amazon Kindle.

Julia jan…

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Yes, Artsvi jan…

It is exciting to be doing this interview with you. More than 32 years ago, in April, 1991, when I was just 20 years old, I conducted my very first interview, and that was with you. At that time, I could not imagine that conducting interviews, especially in English, could be something regular in my life. I was thrilled to know a British author in Armenia — which was still Soviet. For that interview I even specially attended a one-month intensive course of English! I assume you were the only Westerner in Yerevan at that time.

Thank you, Artsvi, for such a kind introduction, but you should know how moved I am to be speaking to you again after so long.  Living and working in Armenia following the earthquake was not an easy time, so much pain and anguish, yet the kindness and generosity of Armenians for my wellbeing will stay with me always. Their concern shone through the darkness and nothing, absolutely nothing, was too much trouble if they could look after me.

Some people in Armenia remember you from your TV program. The English language gradually started to spread in Armenia, and you were one of its promoters.

Teaching and presenting English language programs on the local television channel was a new experience for me. I well remember going to the studio and being given a ‘test’ to see if I was suitable. Soon afterwards I began writing English text for the film sequences and had a young Armenian professor translate my English into Armenian and help me rehearse in both languages.  The director at the television station knew no English but before the program was recorded, he learnt one word. From the adjoining room, as the lights flashed and I waited anxiously, he announced loudly: “Smile, Julia, SMILE!”

Today, along with the memories, I have the pleasure of knowing that one young Armenian girl who watched my programs at that time not only speaks fluent English, but is now my (step) daughter-in-law!

In my above-mentioned interview, published in Gegharvest (Art) newspaper, you spoke about your work-in-progress project – the novel Hotel Armenia. I assume, it was not accomplished.

I tried hard to find a publisher for Hotel Armenia, the novel I wrote while living in Yerevan but it was not to be. However, the manuscript has been useful for information purposes both for my memoir Never in a Fishbowl and also for subsequent articles I have written about Armenia, all published in the United States.

Julia and Loris Tjeknavorian backstage at the Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall, Yerevan, 1989

In an interview to women’s Aragast (Sail) weekly of Yerevan, I was amazed to read your notion, that in Armenia, you were most amazed by women and that the Armenian women exceed the others with their beauty. At that time for a young man like me that “view from the outside” was unusual, but later I saw how right you were, as Armenian female beauty became obvious due to change of generation and improvement of life conditions.

We say here that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and certainly I found Armenian ladies both stunning to look at and beautiful within. Actually, I believe you cannot have one without the other. Beauty within shines out beside dark hair, dark eyes and a beautiful complexion.

And while we are on the subject of beauty, I have noticed how fashion conscious young Armenian ladies are today. When I was there in 1989, and the country was under Soviet rule, they never wore trousers but dressed modestly in skirts and sandals. Now they are fashion aficionados, fully conscious of and subscribing to the latest European and American trends!

I remember your talking and reading Armenian a little bit, but now perhaps you have forgotten what you have learned.

Alas, I am no longer able to speak Armenian well.  I still have the little red book I carried around with me all those years ago, containing words and phrases in Armenian. Today, before I return to the country, I bring out the book and go through them so that I can at least greet everyone and use an Armenian phrase when the opportunity presents itself.

You should also know that while I write under the name of Julia Harley-Green, I retain the legal name of Julia Tjeknavorian. As I’m sure many Armenians know, several members of my family are distinguished in their fields with my former husband, Loris, a well-known composer and conductor; his elder son Zareh (my stepson) a distinguished film director; and Loris’ second son, Emmanuel, an outstanding violinist and young conductor. We live in different countries but when our paths cross, we meet up.

You described about your experience in living in Armenia in your last book with a characteristic title Never in a Fishbowl. I read that chapter, kindly provided me by Zareh Tjeknavorian. It was great to know from there you were keeping traveling to Armenia and seeing the changes it has had after early 1990-s.

Yes, I have returned to Armenia several times since leaving in 1991 and I have witnessed amazing change throughout the country. Those towns devastated by the earthquake, including Gyumri, are no longer recognizable from the destruction and desolation I first witnessed.

And as for Yerevan, it has evolved into a modern metropolis. The fountains, coffee shops and flowerbeds have changed the city beyond all recognition. I have seen how the streets have been repaired and noted the countless new hotels and European boutiques.

What kind of reception has your book gotten so far?

All wonderfully positive, thank you. In fact, the book was reprinted less than three months after publication and is selling well in bookshops and On-Line. I have been busy speaking to book clubs and other organizations around London, and most recently received a personal letter from Her Majesty Queen Camilla saying that she is looking forward to reading it.

From left, Zareh, Julia and Loris Tjeknavorian in New York, 1988

 The Russian writer Andrey Bitov’s book on my country is called the Lessons of Armenia. What was your lesson?

I always remember how Armenian tradition insists a guest is God’s messenger and should be treated accordingly. Living in Armenia all those years ago and being made so welcome, despite the dire circumstances, has instilled in me the importance of this. Life is all about giving and sharing, no matter how little you have. It is this that makes for contentment and returns so much in terms of fulfillment.

 Julia jan, I wish you further interesting trips and books! And you, once a daughter-in-law of Armenian people, are always welcome to Armenia again and again!

I will be back Artsvi! Armenia has a huge place in my heart.

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