The Guardian • Issue #2096

Obituary

Haarootune (Harry) Ohannes Koopelian

VALE Comrade Harry 17-03-1935 ñ 08-03-2024

  • by Tony O
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2096
Harry at protest.

Harry Koopelian passed away on the 8th March, 2024 in Gladesville (Sydney) after a long illness.

Harry joined the Socialist Party of Australia in the early 1970s and remained an active member of the CPA until his lack of mobility made him housebound.

Harry was full of life, he had an exuberant personality and a special common touch with ordinary folk honed by his many years working as a shoe salesman.

If you were on the campaign trail, Harry was a big advantage to have by your side whether you were leafleting, petitioning or canvassing votes on the pre-poll. People wanted to stop and talk to him with his big smile and twinkling eyes.

Harry was also a very modest comrade, not many comrades knew his full story.

Harry was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1935. His mother was a refugee from the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Harry’s grandparents and seven uncles were all killed in the genocide, Harry’s mother Zount was 16 years of age and only survived because her father hid her in a baker’s oven; after the slaughter she fled walking most of the way to Baghdad.

This goes part of the way to explaining Harry’s radical politics, Harry joined the Iraqi Communist Party as a young man, and in 1962 he was arrested and detained in prison for eleven months, suffering beatings and inhumane conditions.

Harry’s family home was a refuge in Baghdad and often they would hide political activists on the regime’s wanted list.

In 1969 Harry arrived in Perth via Tehran on a British Airways flight and then made his way to Merrylands (Sydney) where his brother Ashod lived.Harry’s family arrived later that year his first wife Amelia and three children Ara, Armen, and Silva.

It wasn’t long before Harry was immersed in political activity joining the Union of Arab Communists, a part of the SPA.

The first time I met Harry was just after I arrived in Sydney in 1982, I mentioned to Peter Symon (SPA General Secretary) that I needed to buy a new pair of shoes and he directed me to see Comrade Harry at Myers Shoe Department, sure enough I got the best fitting shoes ever.

Harry was also the SDA Union Delegate at Myers.

The second time I met Harry was at a demonstration in the 1980s in Macquarie Road, Auburn outside the Westella Function Centre where the Iraqi Foreign Minister was speaking. The protest had been called to demonstrate against the massive human waste of the Iran/Iraq War and was organised by a big coalition of Middle Eastern groups including the Union of Iraqi Democrats, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Iranians and Arab Communists. The demonstration effectively blocked the top half of Macquarie Road.

After retirement Harry moved to Girraween in Sydney’s West and joined the Blacktown Branch of the CPA, ever a formidable street activist armed with a petition and leaflets. For a while Harry helped present Radio Red a CPA program on Blacktown Community Radio co-hosted with John McCusker, and Samir Maarbani.

During the Second Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq Harry and Comrade Theo from the Central Sydney Branch maintained a weekly vigil outside Sydney Town Hall against the US invasion.

So it is with sadness we say farewell to comrade Harry, and celebrate a life well lived.

Our condolences and best wishes go to his family, Harry’s many friends and comrades.

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