Recently media were focused on MEP Frank Engel from Luxembourg and his Armenian fiancée Tatev Manukyan, who lives in Belgium. She studied in the State University of Economics of Armenia and later continued her studies in Sweden’s Dalarna University. She relocated to Belgium afterwards, and currently works in the AGBU Europe’s Brussels office. In an exclusive interview with “Armenpress”, Frank Engel and Tatev Manukyan presented their love story – from a random meeting in the Tatev Monastery to wedding planning.
Let’s start from the beginning. Where and how did you first meet?
F. Engel – Of course, I am already used to answering this question. Actually, this can be called a fiight story. I was going to Mongolia to participate in the parliamentary assembly ahead of the EU-Asia summit. A rather short travel was scheduled, and I had to return to Armenia afterwards in order to be here on the Armenian Genocide anniversary day.
There were some problems during the Istanbul-Ulan Bator flight, and we landed in Bishkek, where the passengers were requested to exit the plane. The bad thing was that no other flight was suggested, because we found out the weather conditions were really bad in Ulan Bator, and we didn’t even know when we would be able to reach it. There was nothing else left then cancelling it. I stayed in Bishkek for one day, and the next day I organized a flight to Yerevan. And it so happened that in Armenia I and Tatev coincidentally appeared in the same car, which was going to the Tatev Monastery. The monastery and the surrounding view were simply wonderful, perhaps this is what inspired us. The mysterious beautify of the two Tatevs (my bride and the monastery) were very harmonious.
T. Manukyan – Yes, this was in fact the time following the April War – the second half of April, when I arrived in Armenia for 10 days. I had asked a common friend of me and Frank to take me to Tatev Monastery, and after being in the same car with Frank, I found out that Frank had also requested the same person for the same favor prior to arriving in Armenia, who didn’t hesitate to send both of us to Tatev on the same car.
Speaking about intercultural dialogue, what new discoveries have you managed to do about each other as representatives of different nations?
F. Engel – I don’t know whether I’m the most typical representative of Luxembourg, but anyhow, Tatev, what have you discovered? Actually Tatev had never been to Luxembourg.
T. Manukyan – Really, I hadn’t been to Luxembourg. It was an entirely new discovery for me – the people, the country, I have already started to learn Luxembourgish. I can’t say the same about Frank, since he has more than discovered Armenia already. He told me once : “I have to take you, and you have to see your Fatherland and know it from end to end”. We drove 2500 kilometers in one day in Armenia and Artsakh, travelling in the north and south of Armenia and Artsakh – from Noyemberyan to Meghri, from Martakert to Hadrut.
I am often asked – “Did you show Frank Armenia?”, to which I respond smilingly, yes, Frank showed me Armenia.
F. Engel – By the way, on a white Niva, what any Armenian man must do [laughingly]. Yes, asking an Armenian woman on a date requires a bit more of a constructive approach than a representative of another nation, but I can say Tatev is the kind of person who completely matches me.
What will you say about language issues? If, of course those exists.
F. Engel – A bit time is necessary for me to finish my Armenian lessons and bring my language skill to a normal level. Armenian isn’t one of the easiest languages, in which case one can at least find some similarities with the languages I know. We speak English to each other. We also speak Dutch in Belgium, it is more convenient for communicating with Tatev’s family.
T. Manukyan – Sometimes I simply say – If in the future you want to understand your children, then you must learn Armenian. Our common languages are English, Dutch and French, while Armenian and Luxembourgish are yet to come.
F. Engel – Our children will of course speak also Armenian and Luxembourgish. Tatev in her turn is trying to learn Luxembourgish.
T. Manukyan – Yes, one of the upcoming goals of my life is learning Luxembourgish, because I see how much Frank respects my language and culture, and I have to show the same respect for his language and culture.
And how did your friends and family respond to your decision on being together?
T. Manukyan – They were very excited.
F. Engel – Really?
T. Manukyan – Perhaps you missed that part [laughing].
Why am I asking. Perhaps you’ve seen the photo of an Armenian woman wearing Armenian national clothes, with her black husband and their son, which was rather widely discussed among the public. Different things were said around the photo, which gave the reason to think about the somewhat environment of intolerance. I would like to know what you think about this issue?
F. Engel – But we also saw that even Armenians display more tolerance, when it’s about a black woman, in this case Serena Williams, and this doesn’t disturb anyone. In terms of the Luxembourg society, I haven’t noticed it to create any concern there, since there are many mixed marriages in Luxembourg.
T. Manukyan – I had heard about it, I had seen those negative comments. I have also read all comments regarding an article which was written about us, which were mostly positive, but I was asking myself why? Is it maybe because Frank is a public figure? This really angers me, because it shows the discriminative attitude which we have towards foreigners. During our history we have been persecuted for many times for being religious and ethnic minorities, and now, in fact, we are the ones who discriminate others. That incident was a stereotype breaking in our society, in which the Marashlyan Photo Atelier had an important and right role.
What are the most important qualities which you appreciate in one another?
F. Engel – Tatev has a unique lightness for various issues, calmness and tranquility, which I don’t usually have. This seems to be a complementary factor. She is very understanding towards everyone, something which I don’t always display. She is like that towards me also. For me, she is the unique combination of femininity and intelligence, fair towards others and extremely responsible for her actions.
T. Manukyan – There is a relevant word in Armenian – ‘աշխարհաքաղաքացի’ [cosmopolitan]. I think, this describes him the best. Frank is very open for different cultures, I can say also for different religions and ideas. In my opinion, I have lots to learn from him in this regard. He has a wide outlook, and as a political figure I can say he is very determined in terms of his convictions. He says what he thinks, what many can dislike. He is among those who struggle for the rule of justice in this world. As a partner, I always mention he is the source of my emotional and intellectual supply.
Have you already decided the date and place of your wedding?
F. Engel – Yes, it is decided. It will be in Armenia and Artsakh. We will leave other details undisclosed yet.
Interview by Syuzi Muradyan
Photos by Mkhitary Khachatryan