Australia’s First Armenian Mayor Gears up for Positive Change

SYDNEY, Australia—He was only two years old when his feet first trod upon the distant shores of the “lucky country,” marking the end of a traumatic trek that had dragged his family all the way from the land of the Pharaohs, but Artin Etmekdjian has never looked back.

Artin Etmekdjian

And now, a lifetime later, as he sits in his new office, at city hall, contemplating the culmination of a dream he has long held, Artin is gearing up to meet a new challenge.

As the newly elected mayor of the city of Ryde, near Sydney, Etmekdjian will have his work cut out for him. He is the first Armenian in Australia to hold such a position, but he has no time to sit on his laurels. His in-tray is already overflowing with “things to do.”

Etmekdjian’s election bolsters the growing strength and prestige of the Armenian entity in the Australian political arena where Joe Hockey (deputy leader of the Federal opposition party), Gladys Berejiklian (New South Wales shadow state transport minister), and fellow town hall councilor Sarkis Yedelian have ventured, with the cheers of the electorate resounding in their ears.

Acutely conscious of his Armenian heritage, Etmekdjian nonetheless considers himself a true blue Aussie, a proud citizen of a free country that received him with open arms and that has provided a safe haven for hundreds and thousands of lost seekers of greener fields.

“I acknowledge my place of birth; however, I am very grateful to my parents for selecting Australia as the family’s eventual home and therefore consider myself as a proud Australian of Armenian heritage,” he tells me.

Etmekdjian is confident that his election will impact Armenians in Australia, especially young people, by encouraging them to be more involved in community life, and that “no matter where an individual may come from, success in Australia can be achieved–through hard work, patience, and persistence.”

He is brimming with confidence, determined to usher new winds of change and best serve the community that has accorded him the honor and privilege of mayor.

“I have always been driven by a desire and passion to serve the community and be an agent for positive change,” he says.

With his cheerful countenance and avuncular bearing, Etmekdjian comes out as approachable and amicable but the appearance of docility does not mask the steel will that has seen him propelled to the seat of power he now occupies.

“Any community leader position will always require tough decisions, but most importantly the decision-maker must stand on principle, and be fair and equitable in making the final decision,” he says.

His constituents include 6,000 to 8,000 Armenians, scattered among a colorful multicultural mosaic made up mostly of Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese, with about 40 percent of them immigrants and some 60 percent with at least one parent born overseas.

For Etmekdjian, it is of paramount importance that the ethnic consciousness adapt to the values of the Australian way of life, and for the community to “work harmoniously and achieve greater integration and assimilation.”

Many migrants promptly change their names upon arrival in Australia, opting for anglicized versions that come closer to the ethnic original, although most stop short at attempting to transmogrify their patronymics or family names.

But Etmekdjian has eschewed this as expedient.

“I believe your name is sacred, that it actually shows your heritage and should never be tampered with unless one’s life is threatened,” he stresses.

Although it is generally acknowledged that Armenians tend to vote Labor in Australian elections, Etmekdjian is convinced that they are ready to cross the floor to throw their support behind a compatriot, regardless of their political views.

The number of Armenians in Australia, mainly immigrants from the Middle East, has risen to 40,000. Of these, more than three quarters have settled in New South Wales. The ingathering has been propelled by the unsettled political and military situation in the Arab world. Here in Australia, on the verdant shores and among the hospitable true blues, they have found a second home where they can sleep deep o’nights, without the fear of being the random target of a sniper or a suicide bomber.

In their newly adopted home in this state, Armenians have created a vibrant nucleus, complete with youth clubs and Saturday schools, concentrated mainly around the capital city, Sydney’s, verdant north shore, with the city of Ryde attracting a faithful following.

Artin Etmekdjian has grand plans aimed at further helping develop Ryde, making it more attractive as the place to work and live in. He cites as an example a recently opened multi-stage shopping center that ranks as one of the most ambitious in the region.

From time to time, despite his preoccupation with his current mayoral mandate and the demands of his job, Etmekdjian’s thoughts hover around the city of his birth, Cairo. And although he was too young to remember life there, he still feels a strong kinship with Egypt, and has been back there twice to visit with members of his extended family.

Perhaps, one day, when times are more auspicious, city hall might even envision strengthening the ties between Australia and Egypt, with some sort of twinning agreement, a “sister city” relationship.

But such a step would require careful consideration.

“My belief is that any relationship of this nature must be dealt with caution–firstly, due to the costs involved and ultimately, the importance of the relationship being beneficial to both parties. If the occasion arises that the above is satisfied with an Egyptian city, the matter would be considered,” he says.

Right now, he has more compelling tasks at hand. Championing accountability and transparency, he intends to be a team player, his aim in life to be able “to live a full life and give more to the community than I have been given myself.”

Etmekdjian makes it a practice to speak Armenian at home with his wife Nora. But will his children do the same?

“Whilst I and Nora have not been blessed with children and we must acknowledge the diversity of the Australian community, the main factor for young couples is that they love, respect, and enjoy each other’s company, as well as acknowledge their respective cultural backgrounds,” he notes.

Etmekdjian agrees that the Armenian Church continues to act as the ultimate, unquestionable bond that unites all Armenians, all over the world.

“As the first nation to accept Christianity as a state religion, the church has played an enormous and important role in the life of all Armenians. I strongly believe that to be the case and will always fully support the Armenian Church,” he declares.

And the exquisitely rich and diverse culture, history, and traditions of his people add just the extra pinches of spice that gives Armenians, the ultimate survivors, their everlasting presence.


  1. I have heard of the Etmekjian’s in Cairo, Egypt.  This is great news.  He is proud of his heritage and wishes to help his people of Armenian heritage, but he also wishes to give back to the Australian people which is commandable.  Good for him.  I wish most Diasporan Armenians would follow suit in each and every continent that they live in and help to pursue our cause.

  2. AMEN.. SO True Arthur..

    Armenians are people of talent because wherever they go, a new community will grow and blossom in no time… that is why I love my people..

    Congrats to ARtin.. May God protect you and help you serve your community.. We are sooo very proud that you carry the Armenian name and is the son of the Armenian culture… Keep it up..

    God Bless…

  3. Congratulations to our Armenian son in Ryde, Australia, Artin, now mayor of this city.
    Australia for years has been very selective of immigrants to their land. It is a great
    honor, and recognition that Armenians, as an ancient and advanced peoples were amongst those nationals welcomed to become citizens of Australia… and today have
    welcomed Artin to their government in Ryde, Australia.  Abrees Artin, and thanks to 
    Australians for knowing that Armenians make fine citizens, fine leaders.  Manooshag

  4. Artin has a long track record of social service and professionalism. He is a distinguished member of the Australian Armenian community. He will make an ideal mayor. We are very proud of his achievements.

  5. Mkrtich, we can be proud of the Armenian ability to mix with our host countries and to become good and respected citizens.  This doesn’t mean that we lose our Armenianess.  It is our God-given flexibility and ingenuity which makes it possible for us to be Armenian and to rise to positions of leadership in our Diasporan communities.  No one, least of all our deported and starving, genocide-surviving ancestors, expected that the Armenian nation would endure, let alone grow in the diaspora to the multi-millions.  Many of our most respected writers and artists and musicians created their works in diaspora.  This only helped the survival of the nation and the language.  Now those of us in diaspora who are able, should lend our monetary and moral support to the RA to ensure that creativity continues to thrive there, too, despite the looming threat from Turks and Azeris.

  6. Mkrtich to Mkrtchian,

    Sorry to disaapoint you but this is the fast track to assimiltaion, not integration. the latter is just a fancy alternative used by many here who don’t wish to recignize the reality staring them in the face.

    I am merely pointing out facts. I can applaud this man;s achievements at the same time.

    Western Armenian is a dying language – Assimilation via integration!!!

    The RoA is being depopulated through volunatry and forces emigration.

    Armenians contribute more to their ‘host’ nations through paying taxes, mental contributions, etc, than to Armenia.

    In another fifty years we might have a handful of “Armenian” mayors in Australia but Armenia might be reduced to a hollow shell, if that much.

  7. Mkrtich;
    Aren’t you just full of hope and postiveness. 
    I have hope for Armenia, 21 years ago I never thought I would see a “free and independent” Armenia from Russia.
    I never thought I would see downtown Yerevan look like a small European city. 
    I never thought I would see Armenia compete in Eurovision and today Armenia won the Junior Eurovision Contest.
    We have 4 more embassys opening in Armenia

    Isnt’ it great to look at life as half full rather than half empty?

  8. It is wonderful for   armenians to serve the countries in which they have found freedom. 
    God, jesus bless him and all armenisns especially those who serve OTHERS.



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