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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Being Here: Fine-Tuning Diplomatic Tongues

In a city not famed for its cosmopolitanism, Lilith Poghossian is one of Moscow's better-traveled expatriates. Born in Armenia, she spent much of her childhood in Iran and England, and came to Moscow two years ago to be within relatively close reach of her family in Armenia. She speaks English, Russian, Armenian, Persian, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Italian, and is a senior teacher of English at Moscow's MGIMO diplomatic university. And most surprising of all, she is only 22 years old.


"When I was growing up, people said I was a child genius," said Poghossian, a serious-looking woman, soberly dressed in black like a Victorian schoolmarm. "I don't think I am. I just try to do my job."


Poghossian's responsibilities at MGIMO are heavy. She teaches diplomats twice her age the subtleties of English grammar, working to ensure that the dignity of Russia's diplomatic corps does not founder on a misplaced adverb or an embarrassing malapropism. MGIMO is under the aegis of the Foreign Ministry and there are plenty of budding and aging diplomats whose English falls short of the polished fluency of their just-resigned boss, Andrei Kozyrev.


"The younger ones learn much quicker, and are keener," said Poghossian, who also has to teach old-school Foreign Ministry dinosaurs who are too old or too conservative to be enthusiastic about the language of their former enemies. "The old ones are not as smart as my 14- to 16-year-old pupils."


Poghossian, a graduate of the Moscow Institute of Asian and African Studies, where she majored in Persian, also teaches private students the complex Persian language.


"Sure there are plenty of people who want to learn Farsi," she said, surprised that anyone might think Persian was not the world's most popular language. "It's a very lovely language, with wonderful poetry. I studied it for the literature."


Her family left Iran before the 1979 revolution, emigrating to Armenia. True to the merchant-traveler traditions of her people, Poghossian left Yerevan to jet-set among the Armenian diaspora of Europe, living with her mother's relatives in the English Midlands. She came to Moscow to study, she said, because England bored her. Several of her family also live in Moscow, including her cousin Robert Petrossian, owner of the Golden Palace casino.


"I love Moscow, especially because it is easy to travel back to Armenia," she said. "There's much more going on here than in most places. I don't really mind where I live, as long as my work is interesting and I am with stimulating people.


"Despite all my traveling, I still feel completely Armenian" said Poghossian. "I go to the Armenian church in Moscow every week, but more to keep in touch with the Armenian community than because of God."


Poghossian's younger sister is shortly to follow in her footsteps, going to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in March, at the age of just 16. She currently teaches Hebrew in Armenia. Poghossian's other sister also teaches English in St. Petersburg.


"We have some Jewish blood from our mother's side," explained Poghossian, "And we all love Hebrew and Israel. My little sister even went to a Jewish school in Moscow."


Poghosian's ultimate ambition is to be an ambassador for Armenia, she said, adding, "It doesn't matter where."