The registered cover has a red registration label with ‘Commerce House’, a purple hand-stamp ‘REGISTERED’ and it is addressed to The Editor “Hairenik” American Newspaper, 7 Bennet Street, Boston, Mass, U.S.A. The postage is the chestnut 5d KGV head stamp and the green ½d KGV head stamp, with the large multiple watermark. The vendor states that it was posted from Melbourne in April 1918 (Figure 1).
The reverse has 2 postmarks but only one is legible, a purple transit SAN FRANCISCO. CAL./ MAY/ 21/ 1918/ REG. SEC. The sender’s company name is H.G. Balakian & Co. (Importers & Exporters), Melbourne, as yet unidentified, but of Armenian origin (Figure 2).
The Armenian language is a separate branch of the complex family of Indo-European languages and it has two forms. Eastern Armenian is spoken in Armenia, Iran and the former Soviet Republics. In the Middle East, Western Europe and in expatriate communities in the USA and Australia most people speak Western Armenian. Both forms of the modern language have their origin in classical Armenian or krapar, which is still used in Armenian liturgy.
The first Armenians migrated to Australia in the 1850s, during the gold rush. In his book, The Wandering Armenians (Sydney 1980), Fr. Aramais Mirzaian writes that at that time there was a migration debate between two newspaper editors, one in the Calcutta and the other in Singapore. The editor of Calcutta’s Azgazer Araratian newspaper, discouraged mass exodus to Australia of Armenians living in Asia because he feared they would lose their “hard-won positions in the Far East to pursue a highly risky future in unknown Australia.”
On the other hand the Editor of Ousoumnaper, in Singapore, embraced the idea “in order that Armenians can share in the country’s vast economic potential and development”. However, the Calcutta editor won the debate and, for the time being, Armenians stayed away from Australia. But gradually, the situation changed. Armenians began to migrate to Australia from their homeland due to political upheaval and other tragic events such as the 1896 massacres, the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the Second World War.
However, the majority came to Australia in the 1960s, starting with the Armenians of Egypt after Nasser came to power, in the early 1970s from Cyprus after the Turkish occupation of the island, and from 1975 until 1992, a period of civil unrest in Lebanon. In the early 1990s, a small number migrated to Australia to escape the hardships caused by the combination of the collapse of Soviet Union, the devastating 1988 earthquake and the conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan.
The Armenian community in Australia is estimated to be 30,000 people who’ve come from 43 countries around the world. The majority have settled in Sydney where they have three daily schools, a weekly newspaper and churches. In both Sydney and Melbourne, communities have established a number of other organisations that cater for specific needs, particularly services for the elderly.
Few institutions can claim as distinguished a place in recent Armenian history as the Hairenik Association, publishers of the Hairenik and the Armenian Weekly newspapers. The Hairenik, published in the Armenian language since 1899, has reported, analyzed, and commented on the historic events of modern Armenian history, often in their staggering proportions. In June1932 a column in English appeared in Hairenik to address the needs of English-speaking Armenians.
Response was so positive that by March 1934 the Hairenik Weekly, entirely in English, began publication, mostly through the efforts of young volunteer contributors. Of special interest was the publication of prominent Armenian writers, and the very stories that initially brought William Saroyan national recognition by the American public were first published in the Hairenik Weekly (under the pseudonym Sirak Goryan). In 1969 the paper’s name changed to the Armenian Weekly. Today, along with news of general interest to the Armenian-American community, the Armenian Weekly publishes editorials, political analyses, regular columns, and short stories and poems. Although the Armenian Weekly‘s headquarters are now located in Watertown, Massachusetts, subscribers hail from as near as Boston and as far as Buenos Aires and beyond.