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30.05.2024
Armenian by Choice
London-born Lawyer Carl Ulbricht Revives Armenian Crafts in Garni
London-born Lawyer Carl Ulbricht Revives Armenian Crafts in Garni

"If I had to describe Armenia in one word, I would use 'պայծառ' (‘paytzar’)—'bright’—or ‘կայծ’ (‘kaytz’)—‘spark.’ I've always been impressed by the feeling of life and warmth here," says Carl Ulbricht, reflecting the very brightness he attributes to the Armenian spirit. Known for speaking Armenian beautifully despite having no Armenian roots, Carl captures the essence of a journey deeply connected with cultural discovery and community enrichment.


It All Started with a Family Trip to Western Armenia


Carl's connection with Armenia began unexpectedly during a family holiday in 1988, exploring the historic landscapes of Eastern Turkey—historic Western Armenia. Visiting ancient Armenian sites sparked a fascination that would eventually draw him to Armenia itself. Despite not being Armenian by ethnicity, Carl developed a profound connection to the country, seeing it as a place of deep cultural and personal significance. 

By 1997, he had relocated permanently, facing challenges from learning a new language to dealing with the post-Soviet economy. "Initially, dealing with officialdom was not always easy, although as a foreigner, I was privileged in many ways," Carl explains. He further emphasizes the critical role language played, noting, "Learning the language was pivotal in helping me understand and truly connect with the community."


Starting a New Project in Armenia


Inspired by a lifelong exposure to textiles through his parents' interests, Carl ventured into a creative domain that bridged his professional expertise and personal passions. About five years ago, he embarked on a project that was both a leap of faith and a labor of love—the establishment of the Garni Crafts Centre.

Nestled in the picturesque village of Garni, famous for its classical temple, the center is an ode to Armenian craftsmanship. "I felt there was a gap in the market for kilims with traditional designs using naturally dyed wool," he explains. With support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Carl transformed a small house into a weaving studio, fostering a new generation of artisans skilled in the ancient crafts of dyeing and weaving.
 


Community Impact and Challenges in Garni


The impact on Garni's community, though modest, has been meaningful. "Marketing is not my strong point, and sales have been irregular, mainly dependent on occasional exhibitions and annual Christmas fairs," he admits. Yet, his efforts have started a revival in traditional Armenian textile crafts, offering local women a platform to earn and learn.

Carl's background as an international consultant has been instrumental in managing the complexities of starting and running the crafts center. His extensive experience in the Caucasus and Central Asia gave him a good understanding of the region's cultural dynamics, which he leveraged to foster connections and support for the center. Moreover, his legal expertise not only assisted in navigating the bureaucratic waters but also led to the creation of the first English-Armenian legal dictionary, an endeavor sparked by a need he identified during early legal collaborations between Armenian and British officials.


What’s Next? Carl’s Vision for the Future


Looking to the future, Carl is optimistic about the potential growth of the Garni Crafts Centre. He envisions it becoming a vibrant hub for visitors and online customers, helping local artisans earn a living. "I hope it will provide regular income for the weavers, some of whom are from Artsakh, and perhaps expand into other crafts like woodworking and pottery," he shares.
 

Despite the challenges and ongoing efforts to become sustainable, Carl's advice to others looking to start similar cultural or community development projects is based on practicality and passion. "It's been a lot of work, and it isn't sustainable yet, but the joy of developing designs and seeing the final product—combining design, local wool, natural dyes, and skilled weavers—is profoundly fulfilling," he reflects.

In Armenia, Carl Ulbricht found a spark—a bright, enduring light that continues to inspire his work and life. His journey highlights an important truth about cultural exchange: It deeply enriches both the giver and the receiver, transforming lives and communities alike.

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