AIWA THRIVE shares the stories of individuals from around the world who are positively impacting our community as they lead with purpose.
President, Armenian Cultural Association, South Australia
Today, we feature Lena Gasparyan.
Lena was born in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia in 1985. On her father’s side, her grandfather Gevorg came from Mush, and her grandmother Lena was a native Yerevan girl. On her mother’s side, her grandfather Valodya came from the village Krnchkot in the town of Kari, and her grandmother Nina from the city of Manglis in the Georgian Tetritskaro region.
After gaining her Masters in International Relations from the Yerevan Gladzor University and moving from Armenia to Australia in 2009, Lena has firmly established herself into the multicultural community sector. She is currently employed by the Multicultural Communities Council of South Australia, the state’s peak organisation for culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Outside of her work Lena volunteers her time as a Justice of a Peace for South Australia.
At the age of 26, Lena was elected the president of the Armenian Cultural Association of South Australia. She has served the community in this role from 2011-2015 and again from 2018-current, being the first female president since the 1960’s Armenian migration to South Australia and establishment of the community.
Q: What is your life philosophy?
To make the most of every day and only drink French champagne or Armenian brandy.
But in all seriousness, it is to lead by example, and as a strong advocate for social justice to fight for human rights and justice for all.
February 2021 was a remarkable time in the history of the Armenian community in Adelaide, when after our determined lobbying both Houses of the South Australian State Parliament passed a historic motion recognising the right to self-determination of the indigenous Armenians of the Republic of Artsakh, while condemning the attacks by Azerbaijan and Turkey.
I am so proud to live in a state where democracy, human rights and the voices of minority communities are heard and embraced.
Q: We called 2020 the year of the upheaval and awakening, what were your biggest upheavals and what did they teach you? What was your awakening(s) and what did it teach you?
2020 was indeed a rollercoaster ride for the whole world. In Australia we started 2020 with flooding and bushfires, then COVID hit the globe followed by the war in Artsakh.
I was studying an intensive 12 months leadership course The Governor’s Leadership Foundation when the pandemic struck, so while learning how to be an adaptive leader in a crisis, I also got to experience it all firsthand. This was both a physically and emotionally draining experience for me.
During the pandemic I witnessed and learnt that humans are more adaptive naturally than they think.
It was also very heartening and inspiring for me to see all Armenians, including the Diaspora being united like never before over the Artsakh war. We turned into a powerful fist ready to move mountains. I hope we can use this as a learning experience to see what bits we can take forward and what bits we would like to change as a nation.
Q: What is your hope for the future?
I hope everyone will make an effort and do their share, be kind and take care of each other, our planet and ourselves.
For Armenia, I hope for peace, justice, and prosperity. Let’s value and embrace our roots and unite to rebuild and grow our motherland.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being Armenian?
There are many things I love about being Armenian and many we need to work on. To me being Armenian is sophisticated, we carry so much …
But in one word it is resilience. The Armenian soul never bows down and as the Armenian saying goes “We are unshakable like our mountains”.
Q: How has the Armenian culture shaped / influenced you?
It is true that we are the product of our environment.
From my mother’s womb through to kindergarten, school and then university, my whole world was filled with songs, poems, and stories about “Hayreniq” (motherland) and “Tseghaspanutyoun” (genocide).
As a lullaby my mother Lusik was singing “Krunk” while putting me to sleep. My father Ashot, who was also my geography and history teacher, was constantly telling me about the survival of the Armenian nation and the importance of keeping and passing on our culture, history, and traditions.
A pivotal moment for me was when I was 5 years old and given the role to play Sose Mayrik at a kindergarten fair. I remember taking my role very seriously and understanding the honour. At that age the current generation has icons like Spiderman, Batman or Captain Marvel. Sose Mayrik was my superhero and I wanted to be just like her serving and saving my people.
I am very lucky to have the opportunity to lead the Armenian community in South Australia. We may be a small community here, but we are a big family. In 2019 we established our Armenian Miniature Art Workshop and are currently working on our dance group and classes.
Like our ancestors we are working hard to keep the flame burning and shape our next generation.
Կանք, պիտի լինենք ու դեռ շատանանք!