Armenian Diaspora in Australia

Armenians emigrated to different countries and regions during history. For this reason the Armenian community exists in various states. The population of Armenia is about 3 million. The number of Armenians live in Diaspora is varying in different sources. In general about 800,000 Armenians live in the US, 100,000 in Canada. In Europe, the highest number of Armenians live in France where more than 300, 000 Armenians live. In the Middle East, Iran and Lebanon have the highest number of Armenian population. In both of these states, there are more than 200,000 Armenians live. Compare with these states smaller number of Armenians live in Australia, which is about 30,000. Australia is the country for immigrants and immigration has an important role in Australia’s demographic, social and economic development. Since the end of the Second World War, 5.5 million people immigrated to Australia. Due to the immigration Australia’s population rose from 7 million in 1945 to over 18 million at the end of 1990’s. Massive immigration to Australia started at the end of the Second World War when Australian Government opened its door for immigrants. Australian Government provided accommodation for immigrants in Commonwealth hostels and helped their transportation to Australia.
Armenian immigration to Australia mainly started in 1960’s, which was late compare with the other states that Armenians emigrated. This article will analyze Armenian Diaspora in Australia. As it will be discussed below Armenians came to Australia in 1960’s. Thus, Armenian Community in Australia exists last forty years, which means they do not have a long history there. On the other hand, Armenian Communities’ settlement in US, Canada, France and Britain etc. went back to the 19th Century. For this reason, Armenians in Australia do not have lots of organizations as Armenians in many other states had. Despite this, the Armenian Diaspora in Australia established community organizations and Diaspora organizations and political parties opened branches in Australia.
Armenian immigration to Australia started in the second half of the 19th Century. First Armenian immigrants came to Australia were the adventurous people searching for gold in the unknown territory. These Armenians were from Asian countries such as India and Singapore. At that time there was a debate among the Armenian community in India and Singapore about Armenian immigration to Australia. Armenian newspaper published in Calcutta called Azgarez Araratian opposed the Armenian immigration to Australia on the grounds that Armenians in India would lose their position as a result of the immigration to Australia. However, this immigration was very limited during 19th Century. Armenians started to immigrate to Australia in large numbers during 1960’s. Main reasons for this immigration were to seek better life and political crisis in the territories that Armenians lived.
During 1960’s and 70’s instability in Egypt and Syria led Armenian immigration and the civil War in Lebanon also made some Armenians to migrate to Australia. The Armenian community in Australia is one of the youngest among the Armenian communities around the world. 20,000-25,000 Armenians in Australia settled in Greater Sydney Metropolitan Region and 5,000-10,000 Armenians live in Victoria region, mostly in Melbourne. Poladian, who was an Armenian immigrant to Australia, mentioned Father Aramais Mirzaian as an important figure who helped Armenian immigrants in finding house and job and he also published a monthly church bulletin Looyce. First Armenians came to Australia were traders and workers. Later particularly with the Civil War in Lebanon teachers, doctors and engineers came to Australia. As was the case in countries where Armenians settled in relatively large numbers, Armenians in Australia opened community organizations. They opened schools and clubs and Armenian political parties opened branches. The organizations published newspapers and magazines.
The biggest Armenian organization in Australia is the Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANCA). The ANCA’s activities include grass-roots political advocacy, lobbying, anti-racial vilification, media relations, the research, analysis and dissemination of information and public relations. “The ANCA also facilitates individual and collective action by members of the Armenian-Australian Community, and to encourage Armenian-Australians to participate fully in the Australian Political process and to voice their views and concerns to their government officials (local, state or national), and the media. The ANCA also seeks the development of closer cultural, economic and educational ties between Australia and the Republic of Armenia.” One of the primary goals of the ANCA is to promote Armenian “Genocide” for which ANCA works closely with Macquire University’s Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies. To promote Armenian Studies in educational institutions, the ANCA established Armenian Resource Centre (ARC). The ARC assisted students and academics interested in Armenian Studies. President of the ANCA is Dr. Tro Kortian who is an academic at the University of Sydney, Department of Finance.
There are Armenian organizations, which affiliated to the ANCA: Armenian Youth Federation of Australia, Armenian Cultural Centres, Armenian Cultural Educational Society of Australia, Arshak and Sophie Galstaun Armenian Day School, Armenian Relief Society of Australia, Hometemen: Armenian Union of Physical Culture and Scouting, Armenia Weekly, Voice of Sartarabad, FM 91.5 and Voice of Horizon, FM 98.5. The Armenian community in Australia has several cultural, youth, sporting and welfare organizations and each of them has its own regional branches. In Sydney there are three Armenian private day schools and four Saturday schools and one children’s kindergarten. There is one Armenian TV channel called ARM TV, which was established in 1994 and broadcast over 2.5 hours each week (Wednesdays between 7:00-7:30 pm, 10:00-11:00 pm, and Sundays 1:00-2:00 pm). Armenian General Benevolent Union of Australia is also another Armenian organization, which focus on sporting activities and education. Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) has branches in lots of states and it provides scholarships for higher education and the AGBU administers sixty-two elementary and high schools, community centers and offices in twenty-two countries. In Australia the AGBU had its offices since 1960’s.
The Australian Armenian Association emerged as a splinter group from the AGBU and they declared that they have no links with any Armenian religious, cultural and political organizations. As Armenians claimed that they were the first nation to adapt Christianity as a national religion, Church has important role in the lives of the Armenian Diaspora. Majority of Armenians in Australia belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church (Armenian Orthodox), remaining segments of the community adhere to either the Armenian Catholic church or to several Armenian Evangelical churches. Currently, in Sydney there are 6 Armenian churches; 1 Armenian Apostolic, 1 Armenian Catholic, and 4 Armenian Evangelical. Armenian churches served as organizations, which helped Armenian immigrants in education, housing and provided them financial aid. Armenian churches’ aimed to protect Armenian culture, during the process of Armenian immigrants’ adaptation to the Australian society. Language was the key element to protect Armenian culture in Diaspora. For this reason Armenian Children were thought Armenian language. Another important element was to connect Armenians with Armenia was to remind Diaspora Armenians that Armenians’ homeland was Armenia. The Church played the key role to protect the symbols of identity. Armenian churches also became vehicles for Armenians to express their identity, since when the immigrants reach a foreign territory; generally they found the church as the only familiar institution for themselves. The church was driving force to help immigrants in their adaptation to the new place and to find them jobs. However, there was a competition among churches and even within the same church. Armenian churches also took part in disputes within the Armenian community.
The Armenian community organizations mentioned above have developed since 1960’s when large number of Armenians arrived Australia. At the end of sixties Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF-Dashnak) and two Sunday schools were established. The Armenian Diaspora had a special feature, which is the establishment of organizations as political parties. The ARF was set up in Australia in 1960’s and in 1980’s The Social Democrat Hunchakian Party and Ramgavar Party were set up and Armenian political spectrum was completed in Australia. These political parties existed in Armenia as well as some other states where Armenians live in large numbers. Among these parties the Ramgavar Party is the smallest one. The Ramgavar Party is the successor of Armenakan organization, which was established in 1885. The Ramgavar Party has cooperated with Hunchak for a long time. It opened branches in other states. The ARF was founded in 1890. The ARF aimed “to achieve political and economic freedom in Turkish Armenia by means of rebellion… and. Subjecting to terrorism the Government officials, the traitors,..” The ARF operated mainly in Lebanon, France and Greece and it has operated in Australia for about 30 years. The Hunchak (Hunchakian Revolutionary Party) was founded in Geneva in 1886. Hunchak aimed to “change Ottoman Armenia by violence against the Turkish government (through) propaganda, agitation, terror and peasant and worker activities” The Hunchak also operated in various countries.
During the Cold War the Hunchak and the ARF had different policy regarding Armenia. The Hunchak had a socialist programme and unlike the ARF, which declared war against the Soviet rule in Armenia, Hunchak had linkages with the USSR. The Hunchak also established links with Australia USSR Friendship Society. The Hunchak and the ARF had different perceptions about the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia, while the former celebrated SSR Armenia’s national day, 29th of November, the later celebrated the national day of short lived Armenian state which was established on 28th May 1918. Differences among Diaspora organizations and particularly among political parties were common phenomenon. Political parties became organizations, which help other community organizations to be established and they intended to control the other community organizations. Political parties presented themselves as a key for solution of all problems for Armenians. Political parties politicized the Armenian Diaspora. However, the Armenian political parties, particularly, the ARF also supported the terrorist actions.
The Turkish diplomats were killed in different states around the world. This issue will be analyzed below with the discussion about assassination of Turkey’s Consul General of Sydney Sarik Ariyak and his security guard Engin Sever on 17 December 1980. Diaspora organizations created feelings that Armenians had common ties beyond states that they live. However, Libaridian indicated that some cultural organizations like Hamazkaine and Tekeyan, which were established in the Middle East, could not become effective in the US, Canada and France. In Australia, the Church, the AGBU and the ARF were the organizations leading the Armenian community until 1980’s. After that many organizations were formed and as discussed above rivalry started between the ARF and Hunchak and even within the church.
Armenian terrorist groups started to operate in mid 1970’s and they carried out 200 attacks in 38 cities of 21 countries. In these attacks 42 Turkish diplomats and 4 people from other nations were killed, while 15 Turks and 66 other nationals were wounded. Among the terrorist organizations, which carried out these attacks, the most known is the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA). The first the serious of terrorist attacks was started with the assassination of Mehmet Baydar, Turkey’s Consul General of Los Angeles and his deputy Bahadir Demir on 28th January 1973. Gourgen Yanikan who had not been connected with any terrorist organization operated this attack. However, later attacks were carried out by the terrorist organizations. The second terrorist attack directed against Turkey’s Ambassador in Vienna, Danis Tunaligil who was killed on 22th October 1975. ASALA was responsible for this attack.
ASALA considered itself as a revolutionary movement fighting against Turkish and American Imperialism. ASALA also labeled the U.K., and France as imperialist nations. ASALA were different from its more rightist Armenian counterparts such as The Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide/Armenian Revolutionary Army and the ARF. Anti-Western attitude have been seen in ASALA. For example, ASALA argued that “…The Resolution of the Armenian cause can only be realized through armed struggle and by liberating occupied Armenian lands from Turkish fascism. Is it possible to expect liberation of our lands with the help of the West when imperialist military bases exist on these territories.” ASALA carried out seventy terrorist attacks against Turkey. However, it also directed attacks against various states and other Armenians. ASALA bombed the air France office and the French Cultural Center in Beirut and McDonalds restaurant in Paris. The other terrorist organizations were also conducted attacks against Turkish diplomats.
One of these attacks took place in Australia on 17 December 1980 when Turkey’s Consul General of Sydney Sarik Ariyak and his security guard Engin Sever were murdered. The Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG) was responsible for this terrorist act. Attack carried out by two persons with a motorbike while Sarik Ariyak was going to Turkish Consulate from his house. This terrorist attack was condemned by NATO and the US. The Australian Government’s reaction was rather soft. The Australian authorities did not mention that the terrorist act was carried out by the Armenian terrorist organization. The Turkish community in Sydney prepared a statement, which was read in ethnic radio 2 EA. However, the terrorist organization the JCAG was not mentioned in the statement. The manager of the ethnic radio 2EA was an Armenian S. Kerkyasharian and Simsir argued that this might be the reason why the JCAG was not mentioned and if it was mentioned, it might not have been broadcast. To condemn international terrorism, the Turkish Community in Sydney walked in silence and 5 thousand people took part in the walk. Turkish newspapers published in Australia criticized the ethnic radio 2EA due to its bias broadcasting.
Terrorism was alien in Australia and the Australian media covered the terrorist attack extensively. However, they covered the attack in a way to justify the terrorism rather than to condemn it. For example, the Canberra Times wrote “Armenian revenge against Turks. Today’s Hatreds Fulled by Injustices of Yesterday”. Rod Usher in the Age newspaper titled his article as “Revenge Around the World for a Wrong of Long Ago”. One of the aims of any terrorist organization is to make its voices to be heard and they used terror as a tool for their propaganda. The Australian media gave the terrorist organization a chance to make propaganda with the way they dealt with the assassination of Turkey’s Consul General and his guard. The Australian media did not concern about the murder of the two people and their main concern was possible ethnic strife between Armenian and Turkish communities in Australia.
The Armenian community in Australia tried to cover the fact that the terrorist act was carried out by the JCAG. Armenian religious leader, K. Kazanjian claimed that murder might have done by Turkish left or Kurds. In Turkey, the murder of Turkey’s Consul and his guard were evaluated in the context of Armenian terrorism targeted the Turkish diplomats. Turkish press discussed the history of the Armenian terrorism. Hürriyet newspaper wrote that “Murderers killed 15 in last 5 years and there are 140 attacks against our diplomats, embassies and consulates in the same period”. In his article, Fahir Armaoglu mentioned the JCAG and he argued that Turkey should make its voice to be heard in civilized world. Mehmet Ali Birand wrote about the difficult lives of Turkish diplomats and their families. He stated that due to the fear of terror Consul Generals could not walk on the street without a guard and diplomats work in places where windows are always closed.
The Armenian Community in Turkey condemned the terrorist act and both Patriarch Snork Kalustyan and the spiritual leader of Catholic Armenians, Kahan Çolakyan stated that the terrorist act did not comply with humanity and any religion and murderers should be caught quickly. The JCAG was smaller terrorist organization compare with ASALA. Hyland argued that “the story of the JCAG is the story of the terrorist arm of the ARF (Dashnak).” The JCAG was created and maintained by the ARF. The main aim for this creation was to give the impression that the Dashnak Party did not involve in terrorist activities. Dashnak dedicated itself to the establishment of an independent Armenian state. Thus Dashnak opposed the Soviet rule in Armenia during the Cold War. In that aspect Dashnak was different than ASALA and Hunchak, since both of them had ties with the Soviet Union. The Dashnak killed the Archbishop of Holy Cross Armenian Church in New York City in 1933. The reason for this killing was the Archbishop’s approval of the concept of Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, which Dashnak strongly opposed. After the death of the former leaders of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Dashnak Party changed its policy of strong hostility towards the Soviet Union and new emphasis for the Dashnak was Turkey and its ally United States, both of which was considered as enemies for Dashnak.
In that atmosphere, the JCAG was established by Dashnak in 1975. The JCAG was later renamed as the Armenian Revolutionary Army (ARA). The Central Committee of the Dashnak Party denied any link with the JCAG. However, Dashnak associated publications covered attacks from JCAG extensively and glorified the attackers. The linkages between the Dashnak and JCAG surfaced clearly after each terrorist attack carried out by JCAG. On 27 of May 1976, there was an explosion in the Dashnak Headquarters in Paris and besides the body of the Lebanese- Armenian bomb maker, leaflets were found about the attacks carried out by JCAG and also another attack, which had not been carried out yet. This showed the linkages between Dashnak and JCAG. The Australian authorities were unsuccessful to capture the two terrorists, who are from JCAG.
Armenian Diaspora in all states tried to connect the Armenians with Armenia, which was considered homeland by the Armenians. However, during the Cold War Diaspora’s contact with Armenia was limited. In Australia, the Church invited some Armenian groups for concerts. Few Armenians were also able to visit Armenia via Lebanon. The organization called The Committee of Cultural Relations With Armenians Abroad was opened in Armenia. This Committee published a weekly newspaper, which was sent to many Armenians abroad free of charge. The Committee sent Armenian Delegations to Australia and invited community leaders of Diaspora to Armenia. Armenian organizations in Australia like the AGBU and The Armenian Cultural Society sent teachers and students to Armenia every year. The Armenian community in Australia also sent aid to the Armenia after the earthquake. Until the independence of Armenia the contact between Armenians in Australia and Armenia were limited to the above-mentioned activities.
The independence of Armenia opened new opportunity for the Diaspora to extend its contacts with the motherland. It is important to discuss Diaspora’s view of Armenia and how Diaspora reacted towards the independence and Diaspora’s and Armenia’s expectations from each other. For many Diaspora Armenians, Armenia was far away state about which they did not know much. When Armenia became independent, Diaspora organizations, political parties accepted and supported the independence. However, among the Diaspora parties’ the ARF had cold reaction about the independence of Armenia. The ARF was the biggest Diaspora party and it became like a state within the Armenian Diaspora and the ARF had a difficulty to accept the independent Armenia unless Armenia was controlled by the ARF. According to the ARF, the declaration of independence was made without any preparation and Armenia was governed by a group of inexperience young leaders. The ARF harshly criticized the first President of Armenia, Ter-Petrosyan and blamed him to steal the ARF’s flag and national anthem and used them as the Republic of Armenia’s flag and national anthem.
The relations between Armenia and the Diaspora developed rapidly. Unlike during the Cold War, Diaspora organizations, politicians and businessmen visited Armenia frequently. They faced the real Armenia and its people rather than their perception of Armenia. According to Libaridian, Diaspora Armenians realized that Armenia was not a history or museum and real people lived in Armenia where real problems such as unemployment, high inflation and poverty existed. Diaspora organizations sent a lot of help to Armenia and Diaspora parties were quick to open their branches in Armenia. However, Diaspora parties’ activities to transfer their agenda to Armenia does not suit for Armenia’s interest, since Armenia is a state, which has to establish relations with other states and Armenia’s President can not follow the objectives of Diaspora parties. In terms of Diaspora’s relations with Armenia, the two different arguments have been discussed. As it was mentioned above, one argument is that Diaspora is try to impose its ideas and its objectives on to Armenia and Diaspora uses Armenia as play field in the competition among Diaspora organizations.
Another argument is that Armenia wants to exploit Armenian Diaspora. Beledian argued that “Armenia’s goal, now as in the past, is to make the Diaspora an instrument. Any state would do the same. The question was whether the people of the Diaspora would want to become mere instruments and whether they could agree to become instruments without endangering their survival as communities.” It might be argued that Diaspora has great power over Armenia and it became an important factor Armenia’s relations with the countries where Armenian Diaspora existed. Although Armenian Diaspora in Australia is not as effective as Armenian Diaspora in the US, Canada, France and Britain, they still play a role in Australia’s relations with Armenia. Australia recognized Armenia on 26 December 1991 and established diplomatic relations on 15 January 1992.
Australian Embassy in Moscow is responsible for Armenia. In general Australia’s relations with Armenia have not been developed in both political and economic level. Bilateral trade between the two states is relatively low. However, Australia had contact with even the representatives of the Nagorno-Karabakh administration. One important visit held on 3 June 1999 when Armen Sarkissian, the Minister for Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs of “the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh” visited Australia. He stayed in Australia for two weeks. As it was the case in all contacts of representatives from Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh with Australian authorities, Sarkissian also tried to attract Australian investment to the Nagorno-Karabakh. He also expressed his wish for closer cultural and sporting ties between Australia and the Nagorno-Karabakh. Businessmen played an important role in the contact between Australia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Australian businessman Varuzhan Iskanterian had very active in this respect. He visited Nagorno-Karabakh on 29 September 1999 and held talks with “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” Foreign Minister Naira Melkoumian.
The Armenian community in Australia and particularly the ANCA actively lobbied for Australia’s recognition of the so-called Armenian genocide. The New South Wales State Parliament passed a motion about condemnation of the so-called genocide in 1997 and the New South Wales Parliament also decided the Armenian genocide memorial to be established on 29 April 1998 and this memorial opened on 5 March 1999. It should be noted that New South Wales is the largest and most populace State in Australia and most Armenians in Australia also live there. The ANCA’s activities are also concentrated in the New South Wales. One of the leading figures to support Armenian activities there is Peter Collins, the opposition leader of the North Sales Parliament and member of the Queens Council. His constituency, Willoughby, contains the largest concentration of Armenians. Member of Parliament, John Watkins from Australian Labor Party is also another strong supporter of Armenian activities. His constituency, Gladesville, has a large and growing Armenian community. The Turkish community in Australia protested the New South Wales Parliament’s decision. In a response to Turkey’s Parliament Speaker, Yildirim Akbulut’s complain about the New South Wales Parliament’s decision, Australian House of Representatives, Neil Andrew said that “I would like to state that state parliaments are autonomous and they are independent within themselves in Australia. They even regard themselves higher than the federal parliament.
Our administrative system does not allow the federal parliament to interfere with the decision of the state parliaments.” The ANCA also tried to establish contacts between Armenian and Australian member of parliaments. With its effort in August 2001 Armenia-Australia Parliamentary Friendship group has been formed. As it was mentioned above Armenian Diaspora in Australia dose not have lots of organizations like Armenians have in the US, Canada, France, Britain, Lebanon and the organizations that Armenians founded in Australia are not as powerful as the organizations in the US, Canada etc. However, they are still able to play a role in Australia’s relations with Armenia and particularly the ANCA is very active in that aspect.
Armenians immigrated to the various countries. Their settlement in the US, Canada, France went back to the 19. Century. However, Armenian immigration to Australia mainly started in 1960’s due to the instability in the Middle East. Despite their short history in Australia, Armenian community established organizations like the ANCA and Armenian Diaspora organizations and political parties were quick to open branches in Australia. As was the case in other states, Diaspora organizations particularly the Diaspora parties were competing in Australia.
The church played an important role at the beginning of the Armenian immigration, but later the other organizations especially the ANCA and the AGBU became important Diaspora organizations. After the independence of Armenia the contact between Armenia and the Armenian community in Australia increased and Armenian Diaspora became a driving force in Australia’s relations with Armenia.
Assist. Prof. Dr. at Abant Izzet Baysal University, Bolu. He is also the head of the Caucasus Studies desk, ISRO.
15 JULY 2005

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