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From Arthur Hagopian
Sydney, Jan 1, 2012 - For the Armenians of Australia, the year 2013 may turn out to be one of the most "interesting" (if not momentous) of times in the century-old history of their presence in this lucky country.
Relieved at having survived the global calamity foretold for December 21, 2012 by the ancient Maya Codex, they stand on the threshold of a new era in this hospitable diaspora.
As they await the arrival of a new spiritual leader, dispatched by the mother church following the death of the charismatic former primate, Archbishop Aghan Baliozian, they will be looking forward to the future with mixed feelings.
The Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, has designated one of his most outstanding bishops, Haigazoun Najarian, as the new Armenian primate of the diocese of the Armenian church of Australia and New Zealand, an unknown entity to most.
His appointment is to take effect from January 1.
"Bishop Najarian leaves his position as the pontifical Legate of Central Europe and Sweden to which he was appointed in 2010. Based in Vienna, Austria he tended to the spiritual needs of Armenian communities in more than a dozen countries," a church statement says.
Najarian served in the Eastern Diocese of the United States as Vicar General and has been pastor of a number of parishes in both the US and the UK.
A graduate of the Gevorkian theological seminary at the Mother See of Etchmiadzin, in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, where he also lectured, he completed his studies at St Augustine's College in Canterbury, King’s College in London and St Andrew’s College in Scotland, obtaining his Masters in History at Columbia University in New York.
Najarian will arrive in Sydney in time to celebrate Armenian Christmas on January 6, in accordance with the church's old "domar" (calendar). His takeover is expected to be a smooth process, facilitated by Baliozian's savvy administration and firm management that has contributed significantly to the enhancement of the church's economic standing.
He will also be following in the footsteps of the region's s first primate, Archbishop Karekin Kazanjian (1968), who was later to be crowned Patriarch in Turkey, after serving as Grand Sacristan of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, regarded by Armenians as their second most important spiritual fount after Etchmiadzin.
Will Najarian take the helm of the Armenian church in Australia (and New Zealand), wafting on refreshing new breezes that could herald a new, dynamic chapter in relations with his fold?
The situation in Australia today is a far cry from a century before, when Armenian pioneers began landing here, spurred by the Kalgoorlie gold rush in Western Australia. There were no priests among the prospectors and they had to trudge for miles to hear a semblance of divine service conducted by laymen.
(The first Armenian clergyman, Father Asoghig Ghazarian, arrived in Australia in 1954, following the founding of the first Church Council in Sydney).
The devastation caused by the First World War spawned another influx of displaced Armenians, their number swollen by yet another, more desperate wave of migration after the Second World War.
The wave peaked in the early sixties as more Armenians sought the safer haven of the land Down Under, "a land of opportunity and a place that valued the rights of democracy."
Their numbers have broken through the 50,000 mark (minuscule compared to the million or so in the US and Canada), concentrated primarily in the two capital cities, Sydney and Melbourne, the majority of the emigrants tracing their roots back to the troubled, simmering cauldron of the Middle East, with Lebanon's contribution accounting for the lion's share.
A generally industrious and loyal community, the Armenians here have prospered on the whole -several, like Gladys Berejiklian (New South Wales State Transport Minister) and Joe Hockey (Federal Deputy Opposition Leader), have risen to political prominence, while others, like the Soghomonian and Hovagimian brothers, have created powerhouses in the automotive and associated industries.
"The Armenians of Australia have a lot to be thankful for," as one community leader averred, noting that unlike the unsettled political discombobulations in the Middle East and the proliferation there of totalitarian and police states, "people here enjoy the protection of a stable, democratic government, access to health and economic security, and the freedom and opportunity to be and do what they aspire to."
They have their own schools, churches and political parties.
"You can even stand up in the street and criticize anyone, to their face, without fear of persecution, harassment, imprisonment, or even death, as is the norm in some third world countries," he added.
What they don't have is unity.
"It is true that no two Armenians will ever agree on one thing, but despite their differences, when they come together, the are family, and they know how to have a good time," he said.
The recent visit to Sydney of veteran crooner Harout Pamboukjian solidly buttresses this assertion.
Pamboukjian sang only half a dozen songs, but his electrifying performance at an annual Armenian festival, galvanized his audience. In the euphoric spirit of the moment, they had him carried on their shoulders, tossing and turning in an ocean of ecstatic Armenian faces, swarming all over him.
They had come from all parts of the city, the young and the old, hippies, businessmen, students, children of varying ages, even some people in wheelchairs, blue-collar workers, to hear Harout sing Armenia, and accord his unforgettable "Asmar Aghchig" tribute to dark complexioned girls.
The nationalistic songs echoed along the venue, Darling Harbor's Tumbalong Park, where over 15,000 thousand fans had congregated, in a massive, unprecedented and vociferous show of Armenian camaraderie.
Armenians are fiercely proud of their church, though attendance at Sunday mass remains pedestrian.
"The Armenian Apostolic Church has been more than a center of Christian faith and worship. It has been a gathering place for Armenians to enrich their Christian faith, connect with their ancestral roots, to connect with other Armenians, to forge new friendships, new bonds and generally encompass everything Armenian. It continues to uphold this function until today," the church says.
"Akin to the beautiful worship services of the Armenian Apostolic Church, is the vibrant community life that reflects not only religious teaching but cultural personality. The legacy of 1700+ years of Armenian Christianity (from 301 CE, when Armenian became the first to accept Christianity as its state religion), continues in this part of the world with the loving spirit of perpetuating our beautiful heritage through the saving grace of our Christian faith," the church says.
Yet, behind the seemingly contented facade there lingers, in the heart of many of these "bantukhds" ("exiles"), particularly those who were uprooted when in their youth or middle age, a lingering nostalgia for good old days in the home country, where friendship is forever and loyalty to the family second only to God.
"I live in a block of 37 units, and it's like a ghost town. Not a single one of my 'odar' (non-Armenian) neighbors has ever knocked on my door to say hello, or inquire about me," one matron complains, echoing sentiments all too pronounced among migrants from the East.
"They rarely speak, ignoring each other when passing, totally absorbed in themselves."
"If this were in Bourj Hammoud, Aleppo, or the Old City (of Jerusalem), we would all be all over the place, transforming this block into an oasis of joy and laughter, card-games and kebabs on Sundays. Every one would be welcome at every home. You would not even need to know on my door. You would just walk in," she says.
"And when you walk in the street, a hundred people will know you and greet you, and wish you well. Here, no one bothers to look you in the face. If your eyes ever meet, all you get is a bland smile that seems to say: 'keep off, not interested.'"
"Back home, we used to kiss our parent's and grandparent's hands, even our aunts and uncles, but here, of course, the young today don't know what it is to respect the elders."
Her children were all born in Sydney.
"They love it here, but I don't think I will ever get adjusted or reconciled to this 'odaroutyoun' (exile)," she continues.
And she has been here for nearly 20 years.
Pix caption: Bishop Najarian

Arthur Hagopian

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