The spouse of the Argentinian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mrs. Corina Beatriz Lehmann, who is also the Deputy Chief of the Argentinian Embassy to Baku, tells Azeri Observer, what attracts her in diplomacy, and what are the most rewarding aspects of the profession. SHe also speaks about many similarities between the two countries despite the long distance between them and the unique destinations in Azerbaijan, which impressed her. Finally, she explains what are the benefits of diplomatic couples and why it is easier for them to understand each other.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Could you start with some information about yourself? Where were you born? What degree do you have? What is your professional background?
Answer: I was born in Buenos Aires, which is the capital of Argentina, from a family of an engineer, and a biochemist. It is a question even for myself why, coming from a family with no diplomats, I decided to go into diplomacy. I think it happened because in Argentina we have a lot of clubs (or associations), uniting different communities of immigrants – like Italian, Spanish, German, French clubs, etc. These are places where people meet, socialize and do different sports. Since my great-grandfather was from Switzerland, we attended a Swiss club and I met there not only Swiss people but different nationalities from other countries also. I liked to be among people who spoke different languages from different cultures and I was curious to work abroad in order to know more about them. Meanwhile, I didn’t want to leave and forget about my own country, on the contrary I wanted to be useful for its people. So, I studied- Political Science with a goal to be a diplomat. During my last university year, I started to work as a part-time intern in the Senate’ department, specializing on the indigenous communities law. My boss, who was a lawyer, had her own daily program on the radio, and after some time, she invited me to help her with the production. It was a program about political and social issues, and every day we invited different guests, answered some questions from the audience and aired contemporary music. It was really nice to communicate with people, and I even thought about doing something related to communication if I was unable to become a diplomat.
After achieving my bachelor’s degree I took one year to prepare for the exams, which are compulsory for all Argentinians willing to be diplomats. The competition was very tough as there were about 100 applicants for 20 places, but I was able to pass it. After that, future diplomats were required to complete a two-year post-degree course – that is when I met Sergio – [Ed. note: Ambassador Sergio Osvaldo Perez Gunella], and then I was able to start my diplomatic career in the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires, in 1992. After one year, I, together with Sergio, applied for two opened positions in the Argentinian Embassy in Nigeria. At that time, it was a real adventure, because there was not a lot of information about the country, and the communications were very few. There was no internet, no emails, and just one flight to Africa through Brazil, per week. However, we met with the Argentinian Ambassador in Nigeria who encouraged us, and indeed, it turned out to be an incredible good experience. While serving in Nigeria, we decided to marry, and since we wanted to celebrate it with our family and friends, we had our wedding on vacation in Buenos Aires. Now, there is nothing unusual about organizing a wedding in two weeks, but about 30 years ago it was quite uncommon. Our foreign service law supports the assignment of diplomatic couples in tandem to the same foreign office, so after Nigeria, we served together in Chile, Brussels, and then returned back to Buenos Aires for about eight years, with just one year in Brazil in-between. It was our longest stay in Argentina, and I think it was very good for our son, as he had an opportunity to spend his teenage years – which is a very important period for the formation of a person’s character – with his friends in Argentina. After Buenos Aires, we were assigned to go to Canada, but while packing to go there, we received an offer to work in Washington, which changed our plans. In Washington, we worked for three years, and after that Sergio was appointed to be the Ambassador in Baku, which is his first post as the chief of mission. I came here five months later, because I had to finalize some work in the US. That was about a year and a half ago. In Azerbaijan, I am acting as the Deputy Chief of Mission and I am also in charge of commercial, economic and cultural sections.
Q.: What do you consider the main pros and cons of the diplomatic life?
A.: The main con for me is the inability to be together with my family and friends in bad moments. For example, I was abroad when my mother, my father and one of my best friends passed away. That was extremely hard. Moreover, diplomats miss a lot of things in their families, as life continues on, even when we are thousands of kilometers away. Other than that I don’t have a lot of cons. As for pros, the majority of things that I liked about this profession, when I chose it more than 30 years ago, came true. One of the biggest assets in the diplomatic career for me is the opportunity to meet many people from different parts of the world and be able to connect with them. It often happens when someone asks me for a piece of information or advice and I realize that I know someone who can help, so I put them in touch. Another benefit is seeing the results of my work – it is great to be able to help people with consular and commercial services or with some agreement that we signed, or negotiated. In diplomacy, some issues or problems can take years and even decades to be solved, and sometimes you don’t see the results of your work for a long time, but you can still be proud to be part of the process. It also inspires me that my work allows me to constantly develop and make new discoveries. For example, here I discovered that Azerbaijani dishes have some similar features with the Argentinian cuisine, even though we don’t have many links. I think it is because we adopted a lot from the Spanish gastronomy, which had been influenced by the Arab world. Another reason can be a direct contribution of Syrian, Lebanese, and other Arab immigrants into the Argentinian cuisine. When you travel as a tourist, you see and discover new landscapes, monuments, art, traditions, but when you live inside the environment next to local people, the experience is much deeper.
Q.: What effect has the diplomatic life had on your son? If you and your husband worked in other sphere, would he be different?
A.: I think our son Francisco is a 100% typical child who was raised abroad, but he definitely would have been different if he had grown up in Argentina. On the other hand, a character highly depends on personality. Some of my friends from the diplomatic circles have two, three, four children, and all these children are different – one child is very open, likes to socialize and be abroad, and eventually follows in his diplomat parent’s footsteps; and other children hate everything related to traveling and want to live and work in one place with the same people and friends around. So, a lot depends on the individual. As for our son, I think the French lyceums, where he studied, also had some effect on his personality. He and his friends are part of the French education system, where students from different countries study in the very international environment. Now he is doing a bachelor’s in history and political studies in the Americas in the University College of London.
Q.: Does it make the life easier when a diplomat marries another diplomat? Or does it, on the contrary, complicate things?
A.: Sometimes, it is quite difficult for a person from another professional area to understand his or her partner working in diplomacy. For diplomats it is not just a career, it is a way of life, because even in our free time we still are diplomats and people perceive us accordingly. You are a diplomat 24 hours a day. So, the advantage of the diplomats’ couples is that it’s easier for us to understand each other. It is also difficult for non-diplomats to keep their jobs and build a career when they follow their partners abroad. So, in this sense, our shared profession facilitates things. However, at some point in the diplomatic career it becomes a struggle to find two high position jobs in one place. So, if some day we both are Ambassadors, we will most likely work in different cities or even countries.
Q.: You are not just a diplomat, but are also a diplomatic spouse. What is the main mission of the diplomatic spouse?
A.: My situation is very different from other diplomatic spouses, because my country sent me here as a diplomat; it is my job. . I was forced to miss so many events organized by the board of Head of Missions’ Spouses (HOMS) in Azerbaijan due to my responsibilities at the Embassy and sometimes I regret not to be there. However, I try to participate every time when I can. For example, it was a pleasure to be a part of the “Treasures and Wines Around the World” Charity Gala in Feb. 2020 – the last big event before the pandemic. In 2019, together with other diplomatic spouses, I also visited and helped refugees in a shelter. Apart from HOMS activities, I accompany Sergio to important events, such as National Days, etc. So, it is like a double job.
Q.: Are you able to find any free time in between? How do you spend it? Do you have any hobbies?
A.: In the pandemic period we were certainly provided with more free time. I enjoy cooking, especially different meat dishes. In Argentina we have very good meat products, and that is probably the reason. I like to mix different herbs and spices, and there is room for such experiments in Azerbaijan, as you have plenty of them. Here, I have learned to prepare plov [Ed. note: Azerbaijani pilaf], pepper and eggplant dolma [Ed. note: pepper and eggplants stuffed with meat], and I have also become a lamb fan, as the lamb in Azerbaijan is the best I have ever tasted. Other than cooking I enjoy reading about archaeology, history and gastronomy in different countries and planning tourist and gastronomy routes. My friends know that this is my hobby and before the pandemic they always asked me for advice while planning any trips.
Q.: What are your recommendations for trips around Azerbaijan?
A.: First of all, I recommend everyone to visit Sheki. It is amazing and I absolutely love it. Another discovery for me was the Mountain Jewish village near the city of Guba – we visit it every time when we go to the Shahdag Mountain Resort. Due to the cultural diversity and long history of the country, there are a lot of interesting places. For example, I was in the authentic villages of Ivanovka and Lahic, and liked them a lot. Some historical sites are not even marked, but it is always interesting for me to discover them.
Q.: Do you see any similarities between Azerbaijan and Argentina?
A.: There are a lot of similarities. As soon as we arrived here, we felt like we were in Argentina, even though we didn’t understand anything because of the different language. Azerbaijanis are very open, like to meet with friends, go out and enjoy life – the same as Argentinians. The family and the relations within the family are very important for both our nations. We all like good food and always welcome our guests with a lot of it, which we are happy to share. This is incredible, because we don’t have many links. Another thing that we have in common is the openness to foreigners. Even those who don’t speak English or any foreign language, still do whatever they can to help. People in Azerbaijan are very nice to us, therefore we feel very comfortable here.
Q.: Finally, our signature question to conclude the interview. It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does that manifest itself in your life?
A.: I don’t think that a successful person needs someone behind them. So, I would replace the word ‘behind’ with ‘next to’. A woman should be next to her husband, support him and work together as a team. The same is applicable to men – support from your partner helps anyone. Anyone can be successful in life, single or married, but of course, being accompanied and supported by your partner or your family, helps much more.