Arman Abrahimzadeh

Arman Abrahimzadeh OAM


Watch Arman's Story

While he was in his early 20s, Arman Abrahimzadeh’s mother passed away in tragic circumstances. Inspired by the support of the community and by joining forces with his two sisters, the Zahra Foundation was established in her honour. With the Foundation operating successfully in South Australia and now Newcastle, Arman continues to draw on his own experience to help others.

Information correct at the time of receiving the award

When 10-year-old Arman Abrahimzadeh and his family migrated to Adelaide in 1997, the biggest challenge he faced was learning the language. Without the ability to communicate and understand, making friends and participating in activities was nearly impossible. Arman felt isolated, especially when his older sister wasn’t with him at school. There were moments when he would find a quiet spot on the oval to “have a little cry”, overwhelmed by the feeling of not belonging.

But once he grasped the language and was able to make friends and engage with those around him, Adelaide began to feel like home.

When he was 14, a family friend involved in Taekwondo suggested that Arman take up the sport. His parents saw it as a way to keep him engaged and channel his energy into something positive. Arman excelled in Taekwondo, representing Australia on the international stage. Taekwondo helped Arman significantly during his teenage years, allowing him to manage his energy and emotions in the controlled environment of the gym.

As he neared the end of high school and had to decide on his path, he wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot, but as a young Muslim in a post-9/11 world, he was advised against this.

Arman’s first memory of being interested in design dates back to his early childhood, when his father came home with what was essentially a kit to make a small cardboard house. Watching his father assemble the house, Arman was transfixed. The memory remained with him and led him to consider interior architecture as a career. As a migrant, he was mindful of the importance of having transferable and portable qualifications and attending UniSA’s open day and hearing about job opportunities convinced him to commit.

During his university years, Arman initially had doubts about his course but gradually realised the importance of creativity and innovation in the field. “One of the things that I failed to appreciate at university was that our lecturers were trying to push our creative boundaries. ‘Think outside the box’ they would constantly say, ‘be abstract’. I remember looking up the meaning of abstract to ensure I understood it correctly.”

In March 2010, around the time Arman was to graduate from UniSA, his mother Zahra and sister Atena were celebrating Persian New Year and Zahra’s birthday at a large community event at the Adelaide Convention Centre. “That night, my mum was surrounded by hundreds of community members, and she was having a great night. Unfortunately, it all ended with a tragedy when my dad took her life.”

The family had been subjected to years of psychological and physical abuse, which Arman only realised was not the norm when he began to visit friends’ houses and witness other families’ dynamics. Eventually, Zahra gathered the strength to flee the family home with her children and essentially went into hiding, but the authorities failed to adequately protect her.

Despite the circumstances, Arman chooses to believe that both good and bad events happen for a reason. The tragedy brought an outpouring of support from the community, inspiring him and his sister Atena, a UniSA alumna, to establish the Zahra Foundation, a charitable organisation dedicated to assisting women escaping domestic violence to become financially independent.

The siblings were mindful of taking on such an emotionally taxing activity but have ensured the family’s continuous involvement. “We’ve made sure that the family has a presence on the Board at all times,” he says. Atena served for a number of years, and when Arman left after 12 months, his wife Genevieve, also a UniSA alumna, took over as the family’s nominee.

Arman’s career path eventually led him to work for the SA Housing Authority, using his unique perspective as a former social housing tenant to appreciate the work of government agencies and service providers in assisting vulnerable individuals.

Arman is an Adelaide City Councillor and uses his qualifications and knowledge to further his understanding of the importance of planning and building in the community. “I’m glad I listened to my tutors and lecturers when they told me to hold on and stay positive because it’ll all make sense one day. Nowadays, I find that it makes more and more sense as time goes by.”

Despite reducing his day-to-day involvement in the Foundation, Arman is proud of its impact, having helped more than 1200 South Australian women since its inception and expanding into Newcastle. In 2018 he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community through social welfare organisations.

Arman remains optimistic about the future of domestic violence prevention efforts. “I’m hopeful that the next generation can come along and pick up some of our current social issues and, by the time they’re finished with it, turn around and say, ‘this is no longer an issue; this is no longer a risk’.”

< 2023 Alumni Awards