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

Australia+Poster (1)a
A poster promoting migration to Australia

A poster promoting migration to Australia


“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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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”).
  3. 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.
  4. This program needs to have ambitious annual targets of migration, ensuring the program’s accountability, as well as the accountability of its implementers.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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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  1. State of Emergency said:

    It’s certainly not helpful when churches and other community centers are rebuilt in Syria and elsewhere. Instead of encouraging communities in surrounding countries to emigrate to Armenia, our leaders are busy raising funds and building on foreign lands. Such is the disease of the Armenian diaspora. They prefer to envision Armenia in their mind’s eye and let the tangible go to waste. Until and unless Armenians forgo their selfish instincts, no amount of romanticized talk or praise will save the fatherland from eventual erosion from within.

  2. Edward Demiraiakian said:

    No doubt that your article is well timed, and very pertinent. Others have noticed and commented on the problem. I included. I previously commented that Artsackh needs to have a population of a million, and Armenia, at least double or about 6 million. The only way to accomplish this is with the carrot and no stick. Out of wedlock children should no longer wind up in the abortionists waste basket, and child bearing and child rearing should be government subsidized.
    Every woman that becomes pregnant should receive from the state a (my suggestion) $100 per month stipend until the birth, with an additional $1000 prize at birth for the mother. A $100 per month per child up to the age of seven, or and why not, until the end of educational years. What better investment in our future than investing in our children? So we wind up with families having ten children, like a business. And why not. Let the whole society get in on this. Old people, young people who can’t conceive, anyone. All that money circulating will lift the country out of poverty, bring back a million Armenians whom have left for work overseas. And this is just the begining. I don’t even want to start on what the church’s responsibility is and ought to be on this subject.

  3. Armen said:

    A very timely article! I think the Armenian diaspora should lead the repatriation movement. A pan armenian organization should be established first. It should work with the government of armenia to conduct research of other exiting repatriation organizations and develop an Armenian model of repatriation. Other countries and UN have a lot of experience in this area. Armenia is facing a serious demographic challenge. Repatriation should be on the top of the agenda of many diaspora armenian organizations and communities. Higher child birth rates, more incentives and many other programs that the government is promoting could only go so far. Diaspora has a huge role to play when it comes to the future demographics of Armenia.