Maral Tchorbadjian (née Chahinian) is an eyewitness to modern Armenian history. When her family moved to Melbourne, Australia from Syria, there was no organized Armenian community to speak of let alone an AGBU presence. This came as a big disappointment to this graduate of the AGBU Lazar-Najarian School and former member of the AGBU Scouts, who frequented the AGBU Club and participated in its theater troupe back in Aleppo. But thanks to her father’s leadership, the AGBU Melbourne chapter officially opened in 1989. Since then, Maral has played a major role in its growth and expansion as more Armenians found their way to the continent to start a new life. As chair of AGBU Melbourne since 2003, Maral has the advantage of time and experience to inform her perspective on how to best engage the youth and secure the legacy of AGBU.
We need to nurture our culture and know our history in order to uphold our identity. If everyone does a small bit, together we can make a big contribution.
How would you define your role as an established leader in the Armenian community? As many of the Armenian youth born in Melbourne are likely not as aware of Armenian history as their native Armenian or Middle-East born counterparts, I feel I can help offer guidance and perspective. Since AGBU caters to all tastes and interests, we can offer appealing opportunities that can slowly bring them into the fold. I am working toward establishing groups and projects to help nourish their many interests.
What activities have made the most impact on the Melbourne community, either short or long term? We hold events that introduce the Armenian culture not only to Armenians, but also to non-Armenians. We organized a festival three years ago, called ArmeniaFest. It was a whole day event with close to 1,500 non-Armenian visitors. We created a special area dedicated to Armenian history and, in particular, about the Genocide and distributed printed booklets. It was somewhat controversial, commemorating a tragedy during the festival. However, we chose to use it as an opportunity to celebrate our survival as a people and a culture. We’re planning a similar event for next March called Harmony Day. On this occasion, apart from inviting and involving other Melbourne based Armenian organizations, our aim is to introduce ourselves and our culture to our new neighbors, as we will have only just moved in to our new center. Realizing this dream of having our own “home” is a big achievement. Renting out halls will soon be a thing of the past!
In 2017, we organized a cultural event to appeal to the 10,000 Armenians now living in Melbourne, many of them originally from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia and Turkey. Those who attended were treated to almost three hours of singing and dancing with a guest Armenian dance group Azad Gharibian Dance and Zvartnots Church Choir. In our community, this type of event is rare. But since this one was very successful, I will be proposing that our chapter focuses on planning more such activities. On an ongoing basis, we organize regular family get-together events. We proudly boast a newly formed Ladies Auxiliary and a youth group, which is a priority for us. The community needs to see new faces, so as a matter of wise succession planning, we are preparing the next generation of leaders.
What would be your words of wisdom and advice to the next generation? I would instill the idea that giving back to the community is the best feeling someone can have. Even though we own a jewelry store and an optometry practice, for me, volunteer work comes first. I dedicate all my spare time to AGBU. I’m passionate about helping my community through AGBU because I was brought up in AGBU circles. Giving back to AGBU is in my blood, going back to many generations of volunteers and leaders.
I would also tell the youth that everyone can play a part, no matter how small. In my view, there’s no such thing as “No, I can’t do anything.” We need to nurture our culture and know our history in order to uphold our identity. If everyone does a small bit, together we can make a big contribution. And I would emphasize that whatever we have achieved in Melbourne is due to our members, the supporters and years of hard work.
It didn’t come easily, but eventually we came to a turning point, where we are going to have our own center, which will allow our programs to expand further. As the saying goes, “the sky is the limit.”
Banner Illustration by Luis Tinoco