Interviews with Francophones: Nikolaos Kanellos: "For me, being a francophone is an exercise of humanism – L'Humanité"


"Interviews with Francophones" is a series of interviews with Francophones living in Azerbaijan who has either studied in France or worked in France to hear opinions about the importance of speaking French and about education in France. 

When did your diplomatic mission start in Baku as an Ambassador to Azerbaijan?  What are your best work and life memories made in Azerbaijan?

My diplomatic mission here started on September 20, 2017. My best memory as an ambassador is meeting President Ilham Aliev for the first time. We had a very sincere and open conversation. Another memory for life is bringing the Greek rock band to Azerbaijan where we together recorded the “Yellow flower” song. In Azerbaijan, it is not difficult to get inspired. Here I started to paint every day. I am proud to know many talented Azerbaijani artists and get inspired by them too. I also visited the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and thought that it was also very picturesque. I can say the same about the cities of Lankaran and Shaki.

What is your opinion about the Higher education system of France? Its strengths and drawbacks?

I think education should be one symbolic part of the French flag. In France, education is above everything else. Teachers leave their students freedom of choice. They show a child that exercise on how to be able to choose. This is also how it is for a Greek. This is the permanent exercise of change. You are not a slave of habits and your environment. 

I received a scholarship to go study in France in the city of Nice and then to the city of Lyon, so I speak from experience. In France, the discipline is not called to diminish the inspiration in a student – it has to leave him free to choose. They manage to combine discipline and freethinking. It is important to provide the necessary knowledge so that the student may choose what to do next. Education for a Greek is to teach somebody to replace you. It is a permanent exercise of change.

Would you call yourself a francophone and if yes what does it mean and imply for you?

For me, being a francophone is an exercise of humanism – L'Humanité. I can say that I started my diplomatic career in the city of Strasbourg. I felt very much at home because there are strong cultural and historical sides cultivated in this city. What is behind the French language is more important. The philosophy of the language, the mentality of the people who speak the language.

What advice would you give to our students as they are choosing their Master's degree and reflecting on their future?

What I said to my own kids was always know what is good and what is bad in life. We can teach them through our own examples in families and at Universities. Our nature is contradictory, but the one thing is for sure – you have to choose something you want to do. Not what they ask you to do. The secret of life is to combine your reality with the reality you live in. I tried to study what I like in life, but to study it so well that my father was proud of me. Keep on dreaming, love your country more every day and live in solidarity with others. I believe in this Azerbaijani word “Qismət” (Destiny). I want to have respect and show respect. We are all on the same ground, you should not forget that.

Do you use the French language during your diplomatic activities in Azerbaijan? Have you used it a lot during your diplomatic career?

It is not by chance that I very recently received the Order of Chevalier from the French Republic. Thanks to the knowledge of the French language, I am now able to make a criticism even against myself. I studied French art and painting and it made me a person who I am today. By the way, French historians, philosophers were also influenced by the Greek realists. I often use my favorite idioms that go: “L'imagination est la reine du vrai », which means Imagination is the queen of reality. You should include dreams into reality!

How did your Higher education in France and your knowledge of French impact/influence your career? Did it also influence in many ways your personal life?

The values of French history have been inspiring me because they also were inspired by Greek mythology and ancient history. We should go in-depth with reality. The French are teaching you the freedom to choose. They do not impose rules. They show you the rules. The French language made me feel happy because of its mentality. It is what is behind the French language, its philosophy.