An Interview with Mr Noobar Yacoobian
President of the Armenian Society of New Zealand
This interview takes place in Auckland, New Zealand on the occasion of the installation of the Armenian Alphabet Stone. The Editorial Team of the Paros Newsletter realised this would be a good opportunity to introduce the small Armenian community of New Zealand to its readers with the gracious assistance of Mr Noobar Yacoobian.
Paros: Baron, Noobar, first of all can you please introduce yourself?
Mr Yacoobian: I am Armenian by origin, Iraqi by birth and Kiwi by choice….. I represent the third generation of Armenian genocide. I received my primary education in an Armenian school in Mosul and joined Homenetmen-Mosul in scouting. When my family relocated to Kirkuk I completed my high school education meanwhile playing basketball for the Homenetmen-Kirkuk team. I attended university to study Engineering. In Baghdad I joined Homenetmen-Baghdad and became a member of the Armenian Youth Association of Baghdad.
In 2003, with my wife Anee and two children, Hayk and Nairy, we migrated to New Zealand. I joined the Armenian Society of New Zealand, became a board member and have been serving as the chairman the last two years.
Paros: Could you provide some information on the Armenian Society of New Zealand and its mission since its formation?
Mr Yacoobian; The Armenian community in Auckland is represented by the Armenian Society of New Zealand, which is an incorporated society established in 1996 to serve the cultural needs of the Armenian community in Auckland and the northern part of the North Island. The Armenian community in Auckland consists of 23 families. The vast majority arrived in Auckland in the mid-1990s to call New Zealand home through the New Zealand Immigration points system for skilled migrants.
From humble beginnings they thrived to raise their young families and hold various professional, business and financial positions including engineers, architects, medical, health practitioners and specialists, teachers, accountants, banking and IT consultants, lawyer, business people and so forth.
Paros: What is the purpose of this Armenian organisation?
Mr Yacoobian: The purpose of the ASNZ is to:
- Foster friendship and mutual respect between the Armenian Community in New Zealand and the New Zealand public in large.
- Promote the Armenian culture and heritage amongst New Zealanders of Armenian ethnic origin and the New Zealand public in large.
- Organise non-political cultural, educational and social activities for the Armenian community in New Zealand and all New Zealanders interested in the Armenian culture and heritage as means of promoting goodwill, social harmony and community integration.
- Help and support the settlement and assimilation of Armenian immigrants in New Zealand.
- Promote good fellowship and harmony amongst the people.
- Provide information about the Armenian people, heritage and culture to any interested people or organisations.
- Partner and collaborate with other communities and organisations in New Zealand.
Paros: Bishop Haigazoun Najarian and the priests (namely Reverend Fathers Avetis Hambardzumyan and Bartev Karakashian) visit Auckland from Sydney on pastoral visits with the small community. How do their visits impact on the community?
Mr Yacoobian: The Church has indeed been our spiritual home that embraces faith, hope and love. Apart from its role in caring for the spiritual needs of our community since the Armenian Society of New Zealand was established in 1996, the invaluable support of His Eminence the late Archbishop Baliozian and his Grace Bishop Najarian, provided a strong pillar to rely on in addressing the challenges that we face, as all the Armenian communities in the diaspora do, in keeping our Armenian language, heritage and identity, let alone our Christian faith, alive.
We acknowledge with high appreciation the crucial role that the Armenian Apostolic Church in Australia has had and continues to have in supporting our modest Armenian community in New Zealand.
We are and will remain forever grateful.
Paros: There is also a small community in Wellington. What is your relationship with Wellington and do you work together?
Mr Yacoobian: We have a continuously strengthening relationship with the Armenian community in Wellington. Over the past few years there has been an increase in frequent visits by each of the communities in celebratory occasions and events, where I can truly say there is never a dull moment when the members of both communities come together. We are grateful to have a strong relationship with Armenian communities in the smaller cities of New Zealand outside of Auckland, however we also do recognise that there is a lot of room to improve and are continuously doing so to further help bring the two communities together.
Paros: In New Zealand you have faces likes that of Serj Tankian, Dr Maria Armoudian. How do they relate to the community? Do they participate?
Mr Yacoobian: Both Serge and Maria have been key members in leading the Armenian communities’ endeavors towards the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in New Zealand. They have been very active in their approach to educate, raise awareness and help establish a process towards the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the government. Although Serge has a connection to New Zealand, he is currently based in the United States, which unfortunately doesn’t allow us to engage as often, however it’s always a great to have him back in New Zealand and amongst the community when possible. Maria on the other hand is actively involved and a close member of the community. She is well respected within the community and often acts as an advisor. It’s a pleasure to have both actively involved within the Armenian community and we greatly appreciate the time and effort they provide in helping our community grow and bond.
Paros: The unveiling of the Armenian Alphabet Khachkar will take place on 13 October. How was this commendable project conceived? Where will it be placed? Please provide all the details about this initiative.
Mr Yacoobian: The Armenian Alphabet Stone Project is a joint project of Friendship between the Meadowood Community House (MCH) and the Armenian Society of New Zealand (ASNZ) representing the local Armenian Community; in acknowledgement and appreciation of the special relation the two parties have had since the ASNZ was established in 1996, be a symbol of friendship between the people of New Zealand and Armenia, and consolidate the multicultural spirit of the Meadowood Community House.
In view of the MCH and the Upper Harbour Local Board’s desire that the Stone be a cultural symbol, an agreement was reached to be an “Armenian Alphabet” Stone representing our unique and rich language and heritage. The logo of the ASNZ is engraved on the upper part of the back of the stone at a discernible size to acknowledge the ASNZ as the major sponsor of the project. Although a “Tuff” stone was initially requested it appeared to be more liable for cracks on its way to New Zealand, therefore a “Basalt” stone was purchased as it is more reliable.
The funding of the project is shared between the two parties (MCH and ASNZ). The MCH has agreed to pay for the cost of the installation of the Stone including the formal licenses required for the installation and the costs of the unveiling event. The ASNZ has agreed to pay for the Stone, its cutting and engraving in addition to shipment to Auckland and Customs clearance fees in Armenia and New Zealand.
I visited Armenia in September 2017 to attend the 6th Armenia-Diaspora Pan-Armenian Conference. During my visit, I met with several stone engraving factories in Yerevan. At this point we appointed Mr. Varant Bedroissian as a project manager in Armenia to purchase, cut and engrave the stone.
On the 20th of May 2018, a small ceremony was held in Yerevan to hand over the stone to the Armenian Society of New Zealand, which included a blessing of “good journey of the stone” as it departed to New Zealand. It was a fortunate coincidence that the ceremonies’ timing aligned with our family holiday in Armenia where I was able to represent both the MCH and the ASNZ.
The Armenian Alphabet Stone has been successfully installed at the entrance of the Meadowood Community House on the North Shore of Auckland. The official unveiling ceremony which will take place on the grounds of the Meadowood Reserve, 55 Meadowood Drive, Unsworth Heights, on the 13th of October 2018 at 3.00 pm. The “Friendship Stone” will be unveiled by Ms. Lisa Whyte, The Upper Harbour Local Board Vice-Chair at the presence of a number of distinguished guests. The date of the unveiling coincides with a special day in the Armenian calendar, the Feast Day of the Holy Translators or Tarkmanchats.
Made of Armenian stone and carved in Armenia, the statue will be a modest gift presented from the New Zealand Armenian Community, represented by the Armenian Society of New Zealand to the people of Auckland, as a humble gesture of thanks and gratitude for providing the Armenian settlers an invaluable opportunity for a new life in Aotearoa New Zealand.
I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks and deep gratitude to all who supported the project from its inception to completion regardless of the measure of their support and contribution. Special thanks go to Garo Yeldizian, Namir Battani, Tamara Azizian and Ashot Grigoryan for their special professional and logistic contributions; as well as to our major financial sponsors including the Armenian Ladies’ Committee who through their fund raising events enabled the Society to contribute in funding of the project. I would also like to thank Arsen Sargsyan who played major role in bringing this great project to light.
Paros: Would you like to express any sentiments to the Paros editorial team and readers?
Mr Yacoobian: Firstly, I would like to congratulate the Paros team on their first-year anniversary of the newsletter. I thoroughly enjoy reading the content and sharing it with my family and community. The Paros newsletter is important to the Armenian community in New Zealand as it provides us with the opportunity to share and communicate news between different communities which further results in strengthening our relationships and uniting us.
This interview was conducted for the Diocese’s Paros Newsletter (Issue 14) by Nishan Basmajian