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16 February 2021

Community is King for War-Torn Armenians in Telopea

Sonia Artinian is an active member of the Christian Armenian community in Sydney and no stranger to trauma. Her family left Syria in the 1990s to seek a better life in the West, but in 2011 Daesh (ISIS) looted and seized the property they kept in Syria, destroying the building in the process. There could be no return.

Sonia has closely shared the trauma of those who stayed because her close relatives, friends and countless community members remained in communication during the latest war in Syria.

This war marked the beginning of the Armenian people’s most recent historical persecution. But it is not the first. A long history of trauma surrounds them, highlighted by the genocide committed by Ottoman authorities from 1915 where millions died.  Prior to this, from the 19th to the early 20th centuries there were sporadic massacres of Armenians by the Ottomans.

Hume Community Housing’s Jasmine Tarabay with Sonia Arinian, Armenian community advocate for social and Affordable customers within the Armenian community in Telopea
Hume Community Housing’s Jasmine Tarabay with Sonia Arinian, Armenian community advocate for social and Affordable customers within the Armenian community in Telopea  

Sonia has helped many of her people take refuge in Australia and rebuild their lives through her work as a volunteer with the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), which is the oldest Armenian women's organisation started in 1910.  She did this for several years and now works for the Migrant Resource Centre as a case worker.

She knows her people’s plight. She knows their pain. During this time Sonia, who lives in the Inner West, connected with Hume Community Housing in Parramatta, to help find Armenian refugees a home. Somewhere they could feel safe and secure, among their own people, especially while adjusting to Australian life. This has been at Hume’s properties in Telopea where community has become King to these people.                      

“In earlier years, the religious communities lived in harmony, peace and tolerance in Syria, but that started to change,” said Sonia.

“We could see change on the horizon back in the 1990s so made the decision to emigrate to Australia, which was a wise one. Since the war started, I have been helping fellow Armenians get help and particularly housing since I connected with Hume Community Housing,” she said.

Hume, which has operated in Telopea since 2012, she said, is providing a safe haven for her people. For some, the first real home in a  very long time.                                                    

“The homes have a lovely design, and the one-bedroom apartments are very roomy unlike some social housing accommodation,” Sonia said.

“This helps alleviate the feelings of stress and trauma on these people who have lost everything and desperately want a home to call their own,” she said.

She further explained that because of constant confinement in small, tight spaces packed with people whist fleeing and hiding from persecution, many feel panic and claustrophobia in small rooms, bringing back horrific memories.

Sonia has also organised for Hume customers to access churches in the area, who have in turn helped by sending transport to support this highly devoted religious community to continue their worship.

Madlin Akmakjyan with her beloved Holy Family statue in her home in Hume’s Telopea property

Madlin Akmakjyan with her beloved Holy Family statue in her home in Hume’s Telopea property

“I am so grateful to many of the church communities around Telopea who have helped us, along with Hume, to provide stability in every way possible,” Sonia said.

“In addition, this opportunity with Hume has touched many people’s lives, their quality of life has changed for the better, families have more harmony and have a feeling of independence and empowerment. Overall their health has also improved because stress level is much less, especially their financial stress which was unbearable.

“I believe that the Hume housing model should be adopted widely, and we need to encourage government to do more,” Sonia added.

Sonia initially got to know Hume when she was a volunteer for ARS and has developed a strong relationship with Hume’s Senior Housing Officer, Jasmine Tarabay – who speaks Arabic, a second language to Armenians from Syria, so can converse freely with customers – and said she has worked closely with Sonia for the past two years.

“Sonia is an advocate for many of our social and affordable housing customers within the Armenian community in Telopea and has done an amazing job as she is so committed,” she said.

“We’ve housed a significant number of customers particularly around Telopea many who had been experiencing vulnerabilities such as financial hardship, limited supports, social isolation, domestic violence and community inclusion,” said Jasmine.

Since Sonia and Jasmine have worked as a team to help these vulnerable groups, they have established a growing Armenian community base, predominantly seniors, who now enjoy a sense of social inclusion. Prior to the growth in Armenian customers, Telopea did have problems with anti-social behaviour, but the close nature of this growing community has led to a significant reduction in vandalism and neighbourhood discord. Today the overall security, cleanliness and sense of community co-operation have improved, making Telopea a much more attractive suburb to call home.

“Community support and growth has helped remove the stigma associated with Telopea, an area once considered unattractive,” said Jasmine.

“We have even seen a reduction in tenancy turnover and terminations within Hume complexes because people are happy to live here. Sonia has been a significant role player in our reducing this turnover by helping people to feel more part of a community.

“Many of the Armenian Community at Telopea are still learning English and computer communication skills which has limited their integration with other people, however they are working hard to gain in confidence. Also COVID has put many of the usual art, cooking and community events on hold but once things improve this will help for their further community integration,” Jasmine said.

In 2019 Hume was also the successful bid partner in the Communities Plus redevelopment of Telopea, to work the NSW Government and Frasers Property Australia to transform the North Western suburb into a dynamic integrated community. This will advance Hume’s role in further building Telopea’s social cohesion. 

The redevelopment will include close to 4,500 new homes, with affordable and social housing properties set in a master-planned neighbourhood, new transport links, a mixture of high-quality housing types, and improved access to health, education, and jobs.

Hume will provide services for youth and seniors’ housing, women and children’s accommodation, education, training, and employment services, rental sustainment, and tailored support to transition from social housing and into private rental housing.

If you wish to know more about Hume’s affordable housing, view our vacancies at https://customerservice.humehousing.com.au/en/support/solutions/articles/51000120648-affordable-housing-vacancies 

Ladies from the Armenian Community at Hume Community Housing’s Telopea property: Anna Mikaelian, Madlin Akmakjyan, Sonia Artinian with Hume’s Jasmine Tarrabay