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‘Populate or Perish:’ An Australian Attitude That Can Address Armenia’s Problem


“Populate or perish.”

– John Curtin (Prime Minister of Australia 1941-45)

Following the attack of Australia’s northern border during World War II, the Australian government sought to solve a critical matter. At the time, Prime Minister John Curtin pointed out that the country was in need of a significant population increase—with “security” as their primary motivator.

This recognition was something to consider for a leadership that was still fighting to protect a White Australia Policy. After deliberation, a target of 1% annual migration growth was established, and Arthur Calwell was appointed Minister of Immigration.

Calwell addressed 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 7 million people and we hold 3 million square miles [7.7 million square kilometers] of this Earth 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 these targets and theories. They began incentivizing the arrival of skilled migrants from Britain, and later 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, 500,000 people resettled in Australia, with hundreds of thousands more in the years that followed.

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

What this all shows: Australia treated its population issue seriously. And it won.

What then for Armenia?

The borders of Armenia and Artsakh are currently well secured by the brave, well-trained soldiers. However, the most effective border security is a sustainable nation, with a growing and thriving population.

Armenia’s security, thereby its economic and social development, is sponsored by its people. Therefore, the more of these people it has, the more it can develop.

Thus, Armenia must address its population challenges with the same vigor, and even embellishment that Australia used during WWII. Armenia must adopt a “populate or perish” attitude, first and foremost targeting its Diaspora; while simultaneously attempting to reach individuals with integral skills that will help accelerate the nation’s development.

Seven Considerations Below:

As part of a greater migration initiative, Armenia is in serious need of a repatriation program—even if it takes a declaration that the issue of population growth is a matter of national emergency. Such “embellishment,” or exaggeration, may be essential to snap this issue from the “peripheries” to the “front-and-center.” This program needs to offer tangible benefits for potential repatriates. Something that is in line with the times (and something much better than what was reactively offered to Syrian Armenians after the 2011 Syrian War, as evidenced by more of them leaving Armenia for “greener pastures,” rather than staying “home”). This program needs to be realistic. By targeting Diasporans who are living in countries where conditions would be enhanced by Armenia’s repatriation offering. For example, recognizing that Armenians living in Middle Eastern countries may have more limited freedoms and job prospects. They will be more likely to repatriate more quickly than those living in the United States, Canada or Australia. That is, they will be more enticed by offerings such as free (but modest) accommodations, tax reliefs, guaranteed minimum incomes in jobs, free education for their kids, and so on. This program needs to have ambitious annual targets of migration, ensuring the program’s accountability, as well as 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. Individuals need to be bound by clear conditions for receipt of benefits and welfare (e.g. children of school age must be enrolled in school, 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, with rights to vote, that will ensure migrants are vested in the nations building of the Republic.

“Populate or perish” might sound exaggerated, as it probably did in Curtin’s Australia. However, it is perfect as a guiding slogan for Armenia’s required attitude to address the issue of population growth through repatriation and skill acquisition.

After all, “populate or perish” is all about attitude.

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 United States and Australia, and is an Advisory Board member at Armenia’s first technology venture capital firm.


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