BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
2023 marks 12 years since I began writing a column in Asbarez newspaper. Within this time, I’ve traveled to numerous cities and countries, and I’ve reported about Armenian communities around the world. However, there are a handful of places that I had not yet visited, among them New Zealand and Australia.
So, on March 29, my husband and I started our journey from Los Angeles to visit Oceania.
A few months prior to our trip, I did some searching on Facebook and was able to connect with the Armenian Society in Auckland, New Zealand. My search led me to Liana Petrossian, who is a member of the Society.
Liana is originally from Armenia and has been living in Auckland, with her family, for the last six years. She was a great help in locating a lodging for us and arranging a get together with the local Armenian community,
On Saturday, April 1, Liana picked us up from our Airbnb and drove to downtown Auckland. The one-hour drive was a feast for the eyes of a nature lover like me. I couldn’t help myself, as I took several pictures. The green landscape and the blue skies, with a touch of clouds, for which New Zealand is famous for, was breathtaking.
We enjoyed a few hours in downtown Auckland and then she took us to the community center where we were going to meet members of the Armenian Society.
As we arrived at the community center, right in front of the building, Liana pointed to the “Armenian Alphabet” monument, which was carved in Armenia and shipped to New Zealand in 2018. Then we entered the center, where there were just a few members present, but soon more people trickled in.
The Armenian Society was established in 1996. The Society serves the local needs of the Armenian community and helps keep the culture alive. The members of the board organize many events and celebrations, such as Armenian Independence Day, genocide commemorations, and religious holidays.
The Armenian society has about 100 members and, on that day, there were around 30 to 40 members present. There are approximately 220 Armenians in New Zealand. The first arrival of Armenians in New Zealand has been recorded to be during the Otago gold rush in the 1860s. However, the majority immigrated to New Zealand in the 1990s from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Russia. Since 1999, the society has been gathering at Meadowood Community building, on every third Sunday of the month.
To accommodate our stay, they had to move the date of their monthly gathering to coordinate with our stay in Auckland. We met on April 1, a day before Palm Sunday. For this reason, the lady’s committee had brought olive branches to make crosses. Most women attendees participated in making the crosses, and I also tried my hand in making one or two.
The welcome party was warm and happy. I had the chance to mingle with several members and ask them questions. It was a potluck event, so each member had brought different kinds of tempting desserts.
I also got a chance to speak to the crowd and tell them about my columns and thank them for arranging a wonderful get together, so that I could meet the Armenians and learn about the community.
April 1st also happened to be the birthday of the president of the society, Hermik Soukassian. For this occasion, Hedy Ovanesoff, who, with her husband had pioneered the club, had made an Easter Brioche cake.
By all measures, it was a joyous reunion. There were many families with their kids and their babies in strollers. A big thank you to the board of the Armenian Society for organizing such a nice event.
At the meeting, I had the chance to have a good chat with Nishan Basmajian, who is the Chancellor of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia, same as New Zealand. I gathered most of my information from him.
He noted an interesting fact: In Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, where a small number of Armenians live, there’s a street named after Constantine Zohrab, who was an Armenian. He added that Douglas Zohrab, the son of Constantine, was the ambassador of Armenia in Germany. He also added that Dame Sian Elias, who was appointed as the New Zealand’s first woman Chief Justice in 1999, had Armenian ancestry as well.
Since there’s no Armenian Church in New Zealand, a local Anglican church in Auckland is rented for religious masses and ceremonies. The Archbishop and the priests of Sydney’s Apostolic church, travel from Sydney to Auckland, a few times a year, to conduct Holy Masses, as well as to bless the souls of those deceased. The community has a choir, named Zvartnots.
When the evening was over, Hermik the president of the society, told us that she would give us a ride, because she lives in the same city that we were staying in. On the way, we stopped at Orewa, a beach town, to have a bite at a restaurant and then Hermik drove us to our Airbnb.
The following day, on Sunday, we decided to spend the day at the same beach. We called an Uber, and it was about a 15-minute drive.
The weather in Orewa was very pleasant—in the low 70s—and the coast, which stretched for miles and miles, was just stunning. The beachfront seemed to have very clean and shallow waters and no high waves.
That day, we had breakfast and lunch at different cafés. When it was time to go home, we tried to call an Uber, but it didn’t work. The restaurant attendants tried to help us but to no avail.
After many tries, one of the servers of the restaurant suggested that he could take us with his own car. That was a great solution. It was in the afternoon and the restaurant was not too busy.
When we got home, we started to pack our luggage, because our flight was the following morning, on Monday.
Our newfound friend Hermik, kindly offered to drive us to the airport. That’s how we spent three wonderful days in Auckland, New Zealand.