Y. T. Kanna: A Man on a Mission
Assyrian Migration to Australia

ByStavros T.Stavridis
Historical Researcher, National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research,
Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia

The series C3939/2 item N64/75159 Assyrian Migration from Iraq recently obtained from the National Archives of Australia shows Youaw Toma Kanna's exchange of correspondence with senior officials of the Australian Department of Immigration covering a five year period- June 1964 to July 1969. The documents convey the impression of man on a mission determined to assist his fellow Assyrians in Iraq. Kanna, an Iraqi Assyrian , acted as an "intermediary" for Assyrians who wanted to migrate to Australia from Iraq. There are 2 documents (Nos 1 and 4) showing Kanna's support for Assyrian migration and his attempts to convince Australian officials that his people would have something positive to offer Australia. In a letter of June 29, 1964 he states that " there are about 2,600 families willing to come to Australia" and continues that " Of the above: 60% can read and write English language; 30% have served the British R.A.F (as Assyrian Levies) in Habbaniah;..." He was convinced that " they will not be a burden on Australian Government." (see Doc.1)

According to Kanna the Assyrians good English language skills were attributed to them attending private schools rather than public ones. He believed that the Assyrians generally had a "higher standard education than the average population." He further contends that " the better type positions , such as in banks, have been held by Assyrians. This again lead to a degree of unsettlement because of current programme of nationalization of banks will mean the progressive sacking of Assyrians and their replacement by the native population." (see Doc.4) It is evident that Y.T.Kanna did his best to sell the benefits of Assyrian immigration to Australian officials. He made it clear that Assyrians spoke good English and held better type positions in Iraq. Those who had served as Assyrian Levies were to be considered loyal to the British Empire and would make excellent Australian citizens. Another document written by H.G.Brooks , the Chief Migration Officer -Foreign, provides the Assistant Secretary of Operations Branch with background information on Iraq. The document lists the total population of Iraq including the religious breakdown of the Assyrians into Nestorian, Chaldean, Jacobite and Protestant churches. It further mentions the military coups of 1958 and 1963, the importance of the oil industry for Iraq's economy, an outline of the different levels of the Iraqi education system and the prospects for Assyrian immigration to Australia. On the last point it was envisaged that the Assyrian immigrants would pay their own fares. (see Doc.2)

The remaining documents outline some of the difficulties encountered by Assyrian Iraqis who wished to migrate to Australia. Firstly, they needed a guarantee of accommodation before being eligible for entry into Australia. Secondly, Assyrians could not travel directly by air to Australia from Iraq. They had to travel to Beirut in Lebanon at great expense, before becoming making the long journey to Australia by ship. In October 1964, the Australian government set up a migration office in Beirut to process Assyrian immigration applications. Finally British Consular officials issued visas on behalf of the Australian Government for Assyrians wishing to leave Iraq. It wasn't until 1976 that Australia established its embassy in Baghdad.

Stavros T.Stavridis (M.A), Historical Researcher, National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research,
Latrobe University, Bundoora, Australia.

Document One

Document Two

(Posting date 15 August 2006)

About the Author

Stavros Terry Stavridis was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1949 of Greek parents. He migrated to Australia with his parents in September 1952. Stavros has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Political Science/Economic History and B.A (Hons) in European History from Deakin University and M.A in Greek/Australian History from RMIT University. His MA thesis is titled "The Greek-Turkish War 1919-23: an Australian Press Perspective."

Stavros has nearly 20 years of teaching experience, lecturing at University and TAFE (Technical and Further Education, the equivalent of Community College in the US) levels. He has presented papers at international conferences in Australia and USA and has also given public lectures both in Australia and on the West Coast of the US. Many of his articles have appeared in the Greek-American press. He currently works as a historical researcher at the National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.

Stavros' research interests are the Asia Minor campaign and disaster, Middle Eastern history, the Assyrian and Armenian genocides, Greece in the Balkan Wars 1912-13 and the First World War and history in general.

HCSmaintains a large selection of fine pieces written by Mr.Stavridis which viewers are invited to view at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/stavridisone.html

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