Charles, the prince of Wales, arrived in Armenia on Tuesday on a three-day private visit which a senior British diplomat said reflects his interest in the country’s history and culture.
The eldest child and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II thus became the first member of the British royal family to set foot in independent Armenia.
The main purpose of his trip is to promote a charity project in Yerevan planned by Armen Sarkisian, a London-based former Armenian prime minister. The project called “Yerevan My Love” is aimed at reconstructing historical buildings in the city and using them for charitable purposes. Sarkisian and Charles have jointly raised funds for that as well as a separate effort to restore a medieval castle in Scotland in recent years.
Charles headed to Yerevan’s famous Matenadaran museum of ancient Armenian manuscripts on his arrival at the Zvartnots international airport. No journalists were allowed to enter the building guarded by senior Armenian police officers. Officials at the British Embassy in Armenia said Charles familiarized himself with manuscripts before listening to a presentation of “Yerevan My Love” by Sarkisian.
Charles and Sarkisian made their way into the recently expanded Matenadaran building through a back door, wrong-footing several dozen Armenian environmental activists that demonstrated by the main entrance. They gathered there to urge the prince to help thwart plans by the British company Lydian International to mine gold at the Amulsar deposit in southeastern Armenia. They say that open-pit mining operations there would severely damage the local ecosystem, a claim strongly denied by the company.
Armen Sarkisian, who reportedly has extensive business interests in Britain joined Lydian International’s board of directors in March. The protesters noted this fact in a letter which they hoped to hand to Charles.
Jonathan Aves, the British ambassador to Armenia, promised to pass the letter on to Charles when he met the protesters outside the Matenadaran. Aves also offered to arrange a meeting between their representatives and the prince’s private secretary.
While agreeing that there are “legitimate concerns” regarding mining at Amulsar, Aves stressed that he is “impressed” by Lydian’s approach to environmental issues. “We expect that they will do their best to meet all the regulations and rules that are required to establish their operations,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). The diplomat added that the Armenian government is “working hard” to ensure that the British company complies with those rules.
Aves also declined to give more details of Charles’s other sightseeing activities, citing the private nature of the visit. The British envoy said that the world-famous prince is “interested in cultural monuments and the history of Armenia.”