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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 2, 2021 3:30pm-4:00pm BST

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dry and settled for many, but getting noticeably colder, particularly on monday, with the risk of snow showers. hello, this is bbc news. the headlines... more than 70 mps launch a campaign against coronavirus vaccine passports, calling them �*divisive and discriminatory�*. the philippines, pakistan, kenya and bangladesh have been added to england's travel red list — international visitors will be refused entry, and british and irish citizens and residents will have to enter hotel quarantine. 50 people have been killed and dozens injured in a train crash in taiwan. oxfam suspends two members of its staff in the democratic republic of congo following allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying.
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wildlife conservationists warn people to keep their distance from seals this easter weekend, over concerns that disturbing and scaring them can lead to harm. now on bbc news, hardtalk with zeinab badawi. welcome to hardtalk with me, zeinab badawi. he began life as an armenian refugee in lebanon. he spent his early years in an orphanage outside beirut, and then at the age of eight, he had to leave it, and so he lived rough on the streets. fleeing the start of the civil war in lebanon, he made his way to the united kingdom in 1972 and went on to become a world—class music conductor. my guest today is vartan melkonian. what does his life story tell us about human nature and the common challenges
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we face today? sir vartan melkonian, welcome to hardtalk. now, did you ever believe that a "street slug", as you used to be described, living in the slums of beirut on the streets would then become knighted by prince charles and become a world—class conductor? you know, when you live in the sewers, in the city sewers, when raw sewage is running by you barefoot,
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you have little choice but to enter the realm of incredible imagination. and in that dark sewer, you would imagine, i sat with queens and kings and had counsel with them and had received enormous amounts of accolades in that world of imagination. but when it came to the truth, when later in my life, when the good providence allowed me to climb the marble staircase of aristocratic england, i was well prepared. i knew it all. i've seen it all. you see, slums and the streets can teach you something that people who have lived in a privileged background cannot learn. so there you were, your parents had gone to lebanon from armenia to escape the mass killings of what was described as the genocide by the turks via the ottomans.
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and you were born in a refugee camp in lebanon. your mother dies, your father can't cope, puts you and your brother and sister in an orphanage, and that was the birds nest orphanage about 35 km north of beirut. what was it like being brought up in an orphanage? extraordinary. the orphanage itself was indeed...we were privileged to be there because unlike other children who lived outside the orphanage, they were on the fields doing chores for theirfamilies, but we at the orphanage were well looked after because there was a lot of charitable gifts that had come from various different parts of the world, and in particularfrom denmark from where the missionaries who founded the birds nest orphanage came. you loved being in the orphanage, but at the age
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of eight, you had to leave and you were supposed to go and join a lebanese army compound to carry out chores there and so on, and you said "oh, no, this isn't for me." so you escaped, managed to get to beirut, and that's when you started living as a street child in the slums of beirut. and you said everyday life was a struggle. when i came off the train through which i ran away, the train landed, of course, in the heart of beirut�*s harbour, and next to the harbour, it's the famous colourful red light district of beirut. that's where i started. can you imagine a boy of eight or nine years old living in this urine—saturated alleyway in the red light district with belly dancing music going along with a cacophony going, people cussing, and doing whatever they did there with money changes and false jewellery salesman?
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that was my life. that's how it started. and it's so beautiful, not many people have that opportunity to see life in its full colours and grow up in that... you say it was beautiful living in the red light district and all the exploitation that goes on, and you must have seen things that a child of eight or nine years old should never really see or anybody for that matter, really. indeed. those things are dark, but when you are striving to achieve something, those pains and the witnesses that you've seen, it's only external. if you feel internally peaceful and you find yourself heading towards the horizon, and you know what's on the other side of the sea, there is another world there, and you want to strive to achieve there, then all the pains and the ugliness and the terrible things that we know about that goes on there, itjust washes away from you, and your internal life takes over, and your
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optimism clicks and you become somewhat immune to it, to a degree, i must say. and what did you do to just earn a few pennies here and there? that... i mean, i was once working exactly shoving sand into a truck. over maybe half a day and earned maybe iop, ten lebanese frank, which hardly bought you a sandwich, so those are the things that you worked in all sorts of things. i also worked in the city mortuary where i washed the dead and washed the dentures, and this is what i did before they were buried. there were all sorts of things that you are subject to, all these are things
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which i'm really looking back grateful that i have done all of that. yeah. that i have been well polished and well—versed in the colours of life. but you must also have relied on people's compassion. i mean, when we look at homelessness today all over the world and we see people who are asking for money on the streets, i mean, here in london, homelessness is a problem, after covid, during this pandemic, the numbers have gone up. i mean, did you see a pattern in the kind of people who may just toss you a few coins here and there? well, there are, as you know, zeinab, in life, there are the one who curses and the one who praises. all the time. we cannot escape that natural progress of life. people used to beat me up, even the police, chase me with stones and sticks there. but those were the natural phenomenon of every day, and it was not the fault of the policemen who beat me up, it's the actual thought of the international community
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that did not teach them how children should be treated in that circumstance. you have said, "these illiterate children on our streets. "these dirty little pebbles, we should invest in them "and see them grow up to become precious jewels." so, how can we change perceptions, then? because you say you need action at an international level. yes, you see, we all have a certain degree of giving and a charitable spirit in which... and we should experience that and put it into practise and give those dirty pebbles on the street a wash. give them, let them polish, because in there, you can invest for the future. it is the jewels and the wealth of tomorrow the countries
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..fortune lies in these children. i have tried to demonstrate that street children do have just as much potential to succeed in life and contribute good things to society provided they are given the chance. sure, but you must be really worried now, though, vartan, because the interim ceo of the consortium for street children says because of lockdowns and the pandemic, there are no busking opportunities and fewer people on the streets and the closure of shelters. she goes on to say that many street children tell us about their concerns that they will die of hunger as a result. so here we are, coming to april the 12th, which is the international day for street children. you want to, you know, raise the profile of the world's 150 million street children or thereabouts, but campaigners like you must despair that, given what's going on,
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you are not really having much impact. indeed. you know, it's this term, "street children." it's so archaic. it shouldn't even exist nowadays in this day and age. "street children" has to do with some ancient times, but it does exist. and to see them on the streets without education, without any food, literally, the bare necessities that we all take for granted, they don't have them. so it is a matter of not only the authority, but us individuals to feel the sensation of that child who is weeping on his own, on her own, and for reason that he or she doesn't understand why. so, as we said, you were a street child around the port area of beirut when you were a child. of course, we saw last summer, the terrible port explosion in which more than 200 people
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died in beirut. and you went back there in october of 2020 to see what the situation was like. so just describe to us, i mean, you know, what has the impact been on the poorest of the poor as a result of that explosion? i went there after the explosion. the whole place, it was my home. i don't mean a metaphoric home, but it was really my home, that port area. there were the sewers where i used to live. and it seems like the whole sky had been cracked and shattered into splinters. the whole city, that area was broken to pieces that you cannot imagine, and people were bewildered, bleeding and walking around, still no medication available, nothing of the essentials were available. but you must also really be upset that lebanon's political
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system, its politicians have really been so negligent of the lebanese people. i mean, the world bank now estimates that around half of the country's population live in poverty. i know you are not a political man. can you say that the lebanese have had the government they deserve? you see, i know as you know, i'm in the world of the arts. i cannot give you a meaningful response to any political establishment. what i hear, it'sjust general knowledge, but what i see and feel is an entirely different thing. and whoever is responsible for these atrocities, if it was an atrocity, deliberate, than they have to, of course, be accounted for and pay for whatever has happened. of course, the financial circumstances in lebanon are absolutely unbelievable.
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people, who were quite wealthy and well—to—do people, don't have enough money to just go and buy groceries for themselves. so the politicians, i'm sure, have to answer for this terrible thing that is happening now. all right. so let's get back to your life's journey. because there was a major turning point in your life. you always liked music, which you listened to in the orphanage, the danish sister who ran the orphanage, maria jacobson, would play classical music. you got the street children together, and you got them to sing in harmony and busking and so on. you won a talent contest in lebanon, and you became a singer, and you could afford to buy a home at last. and then, when civil war broke out in lebanon in the �*70s, you managed to get to london as a refugee. although you had a speech impediment, this apparently didn't affect you when
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you were singing. you won a song contest, and then your music career was launched here in the uk. why was it classical music that you were so drawn to? and how did you end up at the royal philharmonic orchestra as a conductor? you know, when i first came to england, i worked in the northern clubs. i used to sing, if you can imagine, tom jones, and i did them quite well at the time, but classical music had always intrigued me. it always made me see something different from the popular world. so i endeavored and tried to do my very best and wrote a symphony, a whole 55 minutes long, complete symphony orchestra music and was performed by the royal philharmonic orchestra with me conducting in abbey road studios. and that's how i began and moved into the world of symphony and classical music.
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by then, you had taught yourself to read music? yes, indeed. until now, i still study, but i have taught myself music. i have never been to any music school. i play several instruments, when i used to busk, of course, and from then on, i taught myself every particular aspect of the music and understand the instruments, their capacity, what are they able to do, what their ranges are, etc. so i did a lot of study. you cannotjust do these things on a whim. absolutely not. symphony plays.
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how would you describe your conducting style? the only way i can describe it is what the critics at the time wrote about me. once i conducted sir algar�*s enigma variation with the london philharmonic orchestra and the london symphony at the royal festival hall, and there was some mockery of, who is this guy coming and conducting one of our most noble symphony orchestras? but some of them, actually, the kinder person said that your conducting is a strange style. he may have been trained in
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the soviet union or in paris, and naming all different conductors�* names, but i had no reason to correct them whatsoever. i didn't know what is the normal way to conduct, so i created my own style. but you know, the world of classic music, some say you know, it's quite elitist. and there you are, no formal music training, and yet, you have the confidence to stand before these orchestras, the london symphony orchestra, the royal philharmonic orchestra and conduct. i mean, how did you achieve that? you know, the failures that i have experienced after the recordings, and the agony that i've felt, no—one could see those. they could only see my conducting because the work that goes into conducting an orchestra, it is long before you are on stage.
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a great deal of preparation, a great deal of study. listening, and listening and listening and finding the movement when the particular section comes in or not. those are the agonising times. but when you are on stage, it's too late. everything is there. you put your hands together and hope that it will work ok. but it seems it has. but itjust shows you that somebody who arrives with nothing, really, in the 1970s to the uk as a refugee, you know, you have made this major contribution. so when you look at the debates that richer countries have today, like the one we are having here in the uk about, you know, how tough laws should be for asylum—seekers or refugees. how do you remind people that in this debate, the contributions that people like you can make to their new society mustn't be overlooked? we all have a part to play to contribute towards society. and if we are given the chance, as i have been given a chance,
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then we will contribute something toward society. we have to look forward and look ahead into the future and see what we can do today that will affect the future in a positive sense. so i know i see a great many people still look at refugee people like me with disdain, perhaps, but i hope that i will be a demonstration that people like me and many others can indeed contribute wonderful things to the society in which we live, given the opportunities and given the spirit of cooperation and friendship completely. i dream that one day the whole world will become one nation with colourful cultures, with different kinds of music, different...
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..cultural symphonies, and yet, we are all striving to achieve something towards human life. yes? well, i'm sure a lot of people would share in that vision, butjust looking at the refugee issue, i mean here in the uk, we see the government saying it wants to toughen up the laws because the government says it will give greater protection to legitimate asylum—seekers and crack down on the illegal migrants and the criminal gangs. and then you have got people like tim hilton from refugee action says, the new proposals represent the biggest attack on the right to claim asylum that we have ever seen, and will close the door to desperate people who arrive in the uk to seek safety. a balance has got to be struck, don't you think, between these two views? how would you strike it? yes, indeed. there are of course many people who abuse the wonderful hospitalities that this country and other established countries provide.
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and those have to be filtered out, those who abuse the system and who take advantage at the detriment of the vulnerable people, and to the detriment of those who are really seeking a better life from the life that they have lived and strive to achieve something wonderful. you know, during the pandemic, we have had a lot of debate both in the uk and internationally about,you know, in the uk, about cuts to the aid budget by almost a third, and whether that sends the right signals to more needy people in the rest of the world. we have got, you know, the discussions about vaccine nationalism and so on. so, when you look at the world today as a result of the cvoid pandemic, i mean, do you see ——covid pandemic that compassion has been compromised? do you see greater or lesser amounts of compassion globally? well, there has never been
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such a sad and desperate calamity towards human life, in particular also towards world economy. the sadness, but something wonderful came out of this dark disease. we have become closer, neighbours began to say hello across the fence and say, "how are you today?" families, old acquaintances came together. so it is something so great that has come out of the shadow of this dark sadness and disease. finally, vartan melkonian, how has being a street boy shaped your life? i think i am so fortunate that it helped me to know the core of life. that means failure is...
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failures must be the foundation of your success. failure you build upon. so if you don't fail and you don't have this enormous anxious anxieties in your life, you can hardly build something so strong for the human culture, for human society. so i think my so—called deprived upbringing has given me a wonderful start to life, and an example is that i am what i am today and i'm very grateful to that start in life. and when you see your own children, what are your thoughts? 0h... my beautiful children. iam amazed. you know, sometimes i go early to school, when they were still school age, collect them early so that i could see them through the window sitting at their desk. it's something that i have never done myself, and always envied them, and they would come home, throw their rucksack
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on the floor and say, "what is for dinner?" these are some things that are so glorious, and i want everyone to see these opportunities that we have here and remember, remember there are children out there still on the streets without education, without school desks. sir vartan melkonian, thank you very much indeed for coming on hardtalk. thank you, zeinab. hello there. do you know what? if we hadn't have had that early warm spelljust a few days ago, i think most of us would be pleased with the weather story
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across the easter weekend. lots of sunshine out there at the moment, as you can see from cumbria just a few hours ago. west is certainly best in terms of the sunshine. you can see there is some stubborn cloud across the far north and east of scotland and down through eastern england. bit more of a breeze here, dragging in more moisture off the north sea. so we keep that sunshine for the remainder of the day out to the west. and temperatures, well, in a little more shelter with that sunshine, 13 or 14, will feel pleasant enough. cooler along those exposed coasts, particularly when you factor in the wind. and it will be the wind that will continue to drive in more cloud overnight tonight. where we keep those clearer skies, though, particularly through northern ireland and scotland, temperatures are likely to fall away close to freezing. so it is going to be a chilly start to saturday morning but that is once again where we are likely to see the best of the sunshine. northern ireland, scotland, northern england, western fringes of wales, hopefully some of the cloud will thin and break across eastern england as we go through the day as well. largely dry right
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across the country, with temperatures peaking at 16 degrees in the sunshine for scotland. cooler along that exposed east coast. but the tables turn as we move into sunday. the start of this colder air arrives into scotland with that weather front pushing in from the north. that means england and wales will see the best of the sunshine, and certainly where we have had some cloud across eastern england, we could see temperatures peaking at around 14, 15, maybe 16 degrees. that is 61 fahrenheit. all change, though, sunday night into monday, with those weather fronts pushing their way steadily southwards, introducing that cold arctic air we have been telling you about over the last couple of days. that is going to sweep its way right across the country, and so that means easter monday will be a noticeable difference to the feel of the weather. sunny spells and scattered showers but those showers will be wintry in nature. almost anywhere could see a fleeting glimpse of snow from time to time. we are not expecting too much to settle, top temperatures struggling, though, particularly when you factor in the wind. it is going to feel very cold,
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indeed, for this time of year. just to summarise for you, for this easter weekend, it is a dry start and it is not going to be too bad for a few days, but it is easter monday, much colder with some snow.
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this is bbc news. the headlines... more than 70 mps launch a campaign against coronavirus vaccine passports, calling them �*divisive and discriminatory�*. the philippines, pakistan, kenya and bangladesh have been added to england�*s travel red list — international visitors will be refused entry, and british and irish citizens and residents will have to enter hotel quarantine. the trial resumes of the police officer accused of killing george floyd in minneapolis last year —— with the prosecution questioning a city police sergeant. 50 people have been killed and dozens injured in a train crash in taiwan. oxfam suspends two members of its staff in the democratic republic of congo following allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying.
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wildlife conservationists warn people to keep their distance from seals this easter weekend, over concerns that disturbing


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