Populate or Perish

An Australian Saying that Might Help Armenia’s Population Problems

(Photo: Fairfax Photo Library, Museums Victoria)

After Australia’s northern border was attacked during World War II, the Australian government, under Prime Minister John Curtin, recognized that the country was in urgent need of a population boost. National security was the motivating factor behind the decision.

The recognition that population issues were even a problem was something considerably major for a leadership that was still fighting to protect a “White Australia Policy.” After deliberation, a target of one percent annual migration growth was established, and Arthur Calwell was appointed Minister of Immigration.

A target of one percent annual migration growth was established and a Minister of Immigration was appointed in Arthur Calwell. Calwell told the Parliament, “If Australians have learned one lesson from the Pacific War, it is surely that we cannot continue to hold our island continent for ourselves and our descendants unless we greatly increase our numbers. We are about seven million people, and we hold three million square miles of this earth’s surface … much development and settlement have yet to be undertaken. Our need to undertake it is urgent and imperative if we are to survive.”

Subsequent Prime Ministers Ben Chifley and Robert Menzies continued to apply this target and theory, incentivizing the arrival of skilled migrants from Britain, and eventually from the rest of (white) Europe.

The catch cry first coined during the Curtin years, “POPULATE OR PERISH” might seem an embellished threat, but the seriousness of the choice apparently at hand (death if no increase to population) defined Australia’s attitude in seriously committing to a migration program that saw the country rise to both a “defended” and a “developed” nation. Between 1948 and 1950, half a million people came to call Australia home, and millions more since.

Most of these migrants came from places that promised less opportunity and less fortune than Australia. In those years, the modest accommodation and nauseating meals in camps were enough to attract people to the unknown, which would eventually become “the Australian dream”.

What this all shows is that Australia treated its population challenge seriously. And it won.

What, then, for Armenia?

The borders of Armenia and Artsakh are very well secured by brave, professional soldiers. However, nothing truly secures borders better than a sustainable nation with a growing and thriving population. Thus, it can be understood that Armenia’s economic and social development—its security—is sponsored by its people. The more of them it has, the more likely it is to develop.

In this vein, Armenia must treat its population challenge with the same vigor, and even embellishment, that Australia did during WWII. The country must adopt a “populate or perish” attitude, first and foremost targeting its Diaspora. In parallel, Armenia must target people of integral skills to accelerate the nation’s development.

it can be understood that Armenia’s economic and social development—its security—is sponsored by its people.  

Armenia needs a serious repatriation program as part of a greater migration program, even if it takes a declaration that the issue of population growth is a matter of national emergency. Such “embellishment” or exaggeration could be what’s needed to snap this issue from the “peripheries” to the “front-and-centre”. This program needs to offer tangible benefits for potential repatriations—something in line with the times and much better than what was reactively offered to Syrian-Armenians after the 2011 Syrian War (as evidenced by how many left the country for “greener pastures”).

The program must also be realistic, targeting Diasporans who live in countries in which conditions would be bettered by repatriation to Armenia. For example, realistically recognizing that Armenians living in those Middle Eastern countries that have more limited freedoms and job prospects will be more likely to repatriate, before those living in the United States, Canada or Australia. That is, they will be more enticed by offerings such as free (but modest) accommodation, tax relief, guaranteed minimum income in jobs, and free education for their kids. Lastly, the program should also have ambitious annual targets of migration, ensuring the program’s accountability and the accountability of its implementers.

The broader migration program also needs to go beyond repatriation. It needs to allow for a percentage of non-Armenian migrants possessing required skills that would help develop the country’s economy. This program needs to impose a “minimum stay” period (of a few years) for those who migrate before being allowed to move elsewhere, and they need to be bound by clear conditions for receipt of benefits and welfare (e.g. children of school age must be enrolled in schools, migrants must learn the Armenian language, etc.). This will enforce a proper opportunity for migrants and migrant families to integrate fully into Armenian society. This program must pave a clear path to fulfill citizenship and rights to vote that will ensure migrants are vested in the nation building of the Republic.

Maybe the ultimatum “populate or perish” sounds extreme to some. It probably did in Curtin’s Australia, too. But I believe it is perfect as a guiding slogan for the attitude Armenia must adopt to fully address its issues with population growth, emphasizing repatriation and skill acquisition. After all, the term “populate or perish” is all about attitude.

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Haig Kayserian

Haig Kayserian is the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of Australia, with a Bachelors in Media & Cultural Studies (Macquarie University) and is currently completing his Masters in Politics & Policy (Deakin University). He is a director at several technology companies based in the US and Australia and is an advisory board member at Armenia’s first technology venture capital firm.

2 Comments

  1. I am wondering when Mr. Kayserian and his fellow ARF Ungers will start packing their bags to move from their developed countries to use the education, work skills, business knowledge they have acquired to help Armenia to advance forward. Why is it that Mr. Kayserian is calling upon Armenians who live in the Middle East to be the pioneers to move to Armenia and not his fellow ungers from Western countries?

  2. Any Armenian American who agrees with the above article has absolutely no right to complain of the growing nativism among white europeans in the US or Europe, and absolutely no right to complain about any remarks the current president makes.
    This is indeed smart policy for the future of the Armenians as a people, but it also means the Armenian Americans I meet have to stop being such liberal pansies.

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