The Social Adjustment of Armenian Immigrants in Australia

Date01 October 1983
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2435.1983.tb00983.x
Published date01 October 1983
AuthorJAMES R. KIRKLAND
The
Social Adjustment
of
Armenian Immigrants
in Australia
BY
JAMES R. KIRKLAND
Migration disrupts an immigrant’s social environment, often reducing his sphere of active
social relations
(Eisenstadt
1952 :373).
To
become socially adjusted in the host country,
the immigrant must form relationships with members of his own ethnic group, of other
ethnic groups, of the host society, or with some combination of the three.
Social adjustment may take place at the secondary group level,but, without the eventual
establishment on
a
large scale of primary group relations in the various host society
institutional integration and eventual structural assimilation are unlikely to occur
(1).
When such relationships are formed, the assimilation of immigrants becomes more
probable
(Gordon
1964;
Zubrzycki
1960: 15).
Social contacts between immigrants and the host society may
be
either direct or indi-
rect. Indirect contact by means of newspapers, radio and television
-
described as
non-
personal
social participation
-
can help immigrants to adjust to the host society, but rarely
leads to structural assimilation. Direct contacts are those of a personal nature, although
they may be confined to secondary group relations. The formation of primary group
relationships with host society members is largely dependent on the orientation of the
immigrant’s social participation; towards the immigrant community, another immigrant
group
or
the host society. In reality, immigrants may participate in any combination ofthe
three at the same time and form primary group relationships with members of any one
or
all communities
(Breton
1970: 132).
This orientation is dependent on two factors
-
the internal cohesion of the immigrant
community and the strength of the individual immigrant’s ethnic identity. The first is a
function of the community’s social organization, which may
or
may not generate forces
which tend to restrict social participation to other ethnic group members. Those com-
munities consisting essentially of networks of interpersonal relations with no formal
organizations are assumed to have the greater numbers establishing institutional ties with
the host community. At the other extreme is the ethnic comunity which can perform all
the services required by its members, i.e., is
institutionally complete (Breton
1970). In the
latter, all social interaction is not necessarily confined to other community members,
although there is definite evidence that such institutional completeness does serve to
constrain a good part of this interaction
(Breton
1970:143;
Martin
1972:123).
The second factor, although influenced by the first, is more a function ofan immigrant’s
background and attitude towards his ethnicity. If the ethnic group is highly cohesive and
the individual strongly identified with his group he will probably restrict his primary
group relations to fellow immigrants. If the reverse is true, he will tend to enter primary
groups in the host society. The extent to which the latter occurs is usually taken to indicate
the speed an immigrant group is becoming
structurally assimilated
into the host society
(Price
1969
:2
18).
Initially limiting social relations to other immigrants does not prevent eventual assimi-
lation. Such a course may even serve to facilitate it. To quote
Fitzpatrick
(1966:8):
515
‘If
people are torn too rapidly away from the traditional cultural framework oftheir lives, and thrown
too
quickly as strangers into a cultural environment which is unfamiliar, the danger of social
disorganization is very great.They need the traditional social group in which they are at home, in
which they find psychological satisfaction and security, in order to move with confidence toward
interaction with the larger society. The immigrant community
is
the beachhead from which they
move with strength.’
Personal
social participation may take place both within and outside formal institutions.
Immigrants may confine their primary group social relations to informal associations or
they may participate mainly in formal organizations and institutions. Most participate in
both, although individuals obviously exhibit different patterns, as well as different ‘in-
tensities’ of participation
(2).
Consequently, to understand the role of social participation
in the immigrant adjustment process
it
is necessary to examine these patterns at the
individual, sub-group and groups levels.
The principal aim of this paper is to examine the patterns of Armenian social partici-
pation in Sydney, the orientation of this participation and the extent to which Armenian
immigrants have become socially adjusted to Australian society. In accomplishing this,
two main areas of social participation are examined: friendship patterns and community
participation
(3).
The data for this study were obtained by means of a social survey of the Sydney
Armenian Community carried out between October 1976 and July 1977. This survey
consisted of a postal
census
of every Armenian household for which an address could be
obtained, followed by intensive interviews with a representative sample of the study
population. In all, 889 households were surveyed and 97 household heads were inter-
viewed.
ORIGINS
OF
THE ARMENIAN IMMIGRANTS IN AUSTRALIA
The great majority ofthe Armenian immigrants in Australia today came from the Middle
East, primarily from the Arab countries of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, and from
Iran. Smaller numbers came from other Middle Eastern countries, from Asia, Africa,
Europe and the Americas. With the exception of those from Iran and Asia, most of these
immigrants had their roots in Turkey, as shown by the fact that just under two-thirds of
their fathers and
13
percent of the immigrants themselves had been born there. Regardless
of origin, they were mainly urban dwellers who had lived in the largest cities of the
countries from which they came.
BACKGROUND FACTORS AFFECTING ARMENIAN SOCIAL
PARTICIPATION
IN
AUSTRALIA
The patterns
of
Armenian social life and the structure of the Armenian communities,
especially in the Arab Middle East, have their roots in the massacres and deportations of
the World War
I
period. Before this time the traditional social unit of the majority of the
Armenians
-
those in Turkey
-
was the extended family and the basis of Armenian social
organization was either self-sufficient local village communities, or fairly tight-knit urban
communities. With the massacres and dispersions the traditional community and family
bonds were broken and most viable social organization ceased to exist, requiring the
refugees, who were largely strangers
to
each other, to develop new patterns of social
interaction and integration.
The massacres and dispersions also had a social ‘homogenizing’ effect, as they suffered
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