Caroline Consten

Caroline Consten: ‘I Want to Become the Voice of Armenia’


YEREVAN — When last year at a regular cultural event in Yerevan I was introduced to Caroline Consten, who moved to Armenia from France, I was thinking that this fluent Armenian-speaking woman is a diasporan Armenian, especially when she said how true it would be if Armenians from abroad come and unite in Armenia. And from the further conversation, I was surprised to find out that Caroline does not have any Armenian origins.

Consten, a communications specialist, was born in Paris and worked in many countries (Ethiopia, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Iran, Armenia). In recent years, she has lived in Yerevan, received Republic of Armenia’s citizenship and now jokingly introduces herself as Caroline Qonstanyan. “The name is not important; my heart is Armenian,” she says.

My conversation with her took place at her workplace, at the newly opened Nor Aleppo restaurant in Yerevan. It was conducted in Armenian, sometimes in English.

Dear Caroline, was it difficult to learn Armenian?

Very much. I am still learning every day.

And many foreigners living in Armenia, even those of Armenian descent, do not think about learning Armenian.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

I have seen how much people’s attitude changed towards me when I started communicating in Armenian — when they realized that I am not Armenian, but I am trying to learn their language.

When and how did your relationship with Armenia begin?

The first time I came to Armenia in 2009, for work, I had a contract with “Orange” mobile phone company for three months, then they kept extending my contract. I did not try to study Armenian from the beginning, and when I started learning it was in the wrong way, learning words, but not being able to make sentences. In 2012, I found a very good teacher, Anahit Avetisyan, who has written a book on learning Eastern Armenian. I was practicing with her three times a week for two hours and then I started to speak and write better — reading is still difficult for me. Then I went to work in other countries, where I did not speak Armenian with anyone, but whenever I had time, I would come to Armenia, meet my teacher and practice again. In France, I watched Armenian TV channels, although my teacher told me, “Caroline jan, they speak Armenian very poorly on our TV.” But by hearing the language, it helped not forgetting it too much.

Caroline Consten

And now you live and work in Armenia.

Yes, in this very restaurant, as a marketer. I also work as a volunteer with the International Women’s Association of Yerevan.

Now many foreigners live in Armenia: Russians, Indians, Iranians. What would you say to those who want to come and live here?

I will tell the Russians to stay here, their life here is better than in Russia. There are few Europeans, but I know another French man who loved Armenia as much as I did and decided to stay here. I will say that the people here are very kind (not all of them, of course, like in all countries), the fruits and the food are very tasty, the weather is very good. Armenia is sunny, the air is dry, not humid in the winter. And you can find a job. Of course, you cannot compare the wages with Europe or America, but there is work. And if you want to open a small business (I’m not talking about a big one), it is very easy here. Also, now many people work remotely, so from here you can work with the entire world.

Now Armenia experiences a difficult time: do you follow the political situation?

For 30 years the state was just shouting and was on the side of Russia. (From this moment, Caroline started speaking English). There is a lack of political knowledge, plus  you cannot change overnight a whole system, which has been courrupted for 30 years. I see differences now, I see democracy, but it is very hard for the government to manage the situation. I do not speak about the previous governments, because they were just sold to Russia. Now more people realize that Russia is not a friend and ally, abusing Armenia all the time, but there are still people who think that Russia is a supporter. People should understand they have to take their destiny, their responsibility in their own hands and not wait for anyone to be their support. This is why I love people who join VOMA and Azatazen: they are patriots, not nationalists, who have the right mindset and work to make sure that this country will continue existing and they can properly protect it. 

And you are also a part of Azatazen, which Turkey recently announced a terroristic organization.

Of course, they say so. Azatazen members are real patriots working to protect Armenia against the real terrorists! Yes, I participate in Azatazen. The first time I went was with Repat Armenia, who took us there after the September events near Jermuk. When I heard the gunshots, it was frightening. I was very tense when I held a gun in my hands  for the first time in my life. But it goes away with practice and it teaches you the right way to react: we should not be in a panic mode if something happens. When Jermuk was attacked last September, people were saying: Oh my Gosh, this could happen again and what should we do? Many people were putting their heads in the sand, being in a total denial, which is not a right way to react. More people need to be able to defend themselves or at least  know what to do. If something would happen (which I hope will never happen), we should be prepared, have the right reaction and not be frozen in fear. We need a critical number of well prepared civilians; I compare it with the Resistance in France : these  patriots, I repeat — patriots, not nationalists, were a minority but very active and efficient. They were that critical number of civilians.

And besides being prepared, what else would you like to see radically changed in Armenian society?

First, people need to understand that they need to work. Everybody should mind their own business. We have very good people, we have a very beautiful country and very good soil, a lot of things could be done here, so just plant the seeds and start working and stop blaming others and weeping, because everything is possible. There is this Armenian saying “Amen inch lav klini” (Everything will be good), but it cannot happen by miracle, without doing anything – you have to take action. But again, I am very confident because of the new generation that has totally different mentality. Another thing: Armenia still is a very macho country, women are not always well treated, so this also needs to change.

You recently received Armenian citizenship, congratulations! Some people say that it is very difficult to get an Armenian passport.

This is not so true for now. I was so happy to become an Armenian citizen. (From this moment, Caroline started speaking Armenian again). Before it was a little longer procedure. You still have though you to wait for the whole day in OVIR (Passport and Visa Department), which is a nightmare. This could be organized better. It is interesting that two years ago they refused to give me my Armenian citizenship, without explaining why, but this time they accepted it. And I had to study the constitution of Armenia. Diasporan Armenians don’t need it, but non-Armenians have to pass a test. I could have taken the exam with a translator, but I decided to learn the constitution of Armenia in Armenian, which was not very difficult. Now with this Armenian passport I feel that I am Armenian. Of course, if I could only hold one citizenship, I would not give up my French one, but my Armenian passport is like my proof of my commitment to Armenia!

What are your favorite places in Armenia?

I love everything: the villages, nature, Yerevan, musical groups, dances (I have been practicing Armenian traditional dances for a while), the architecture, but I am very unhappy that the oligarchs demolished the old buildings and built ugly buildings. That is why I love Gyumri a lot, even more now that they have renovated a lot of places. I was once in Artsakh, in 2010… Such a pity I did not go again and I now …it is gone.

As a French woman living in Armenia, what message do you have for Armenians living abroad?

Come, live, stay in Armenia! Many diasporan Armenians have never set foot in Armenia. They say it is our country, our capital, but they know nothing about their country. I want to become the voice of Armenia, that’s why I am struggling, I want everyone to know what Armenia is like, what’s happening here, what injustice happens toward the country. In France, now they talk more about Armenia, but I have many friends who have not heard anything about Armenia. I would like more American Armenians to come here, for the future of Armenia. It would also help protecting the country, because their way of thinking is a little different. Our biggest problem is that people who are 50-60 years old have that Soviet mentality and they cannot change. But I also see that the young people now have a different way of thinking.

Today, France is strengthening its presence in Armenia. They are opening a consulate in Goris, etc. Some people say that French culture is very good for Armenia, but history shows that the policies it conducted were not in favor of Armenia.

Yes, France is trying to be a good friend to Armenia, but it is a member of the European Union and is connected to other European countries, there is the gas problem, etc. Now all over the world the values are very low, everything is for money, for profit. At this time, it is terrible in all regions, you cannot understand what will happen tomorrow.

In Armenia, people live for the day, but they must have vision, this is a very important thing. This is something that should be changed in Armenia. But everything will be fine, we must have hope and work to make this hope a reality.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: