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Talar Koushian stands in Kings Park and Botanic Garden overlooking Perth, Australia’s city skyline.
Talar Koushian stands in Kings Park and Botanic Garden overlooking Perth, Australia’s city skyline.

Cracking the Resilience Code

Talar Koushian’s personal triumph over a national tragedy


Talar Koushian’s ability to overcome adversity and succeed against the odds is award worthy. Currently based in Perth, Australia, the 34-year-old cybersecurity specialist has dealt with more crises in the past decade or so than the vast majority experience in an entire lifetime. Yet, she has a decidedly calm demeanor, making her all the more intriguing. “Resilience ignites success. I firmly believe in resilience and perseverance, but I acknowledge that none of these traits can flourish without support,” she says, referencing her family, mentors and husband.  

Koushian’s mantra is really quite inspiring, especially when one considers how much trauma and emotional upheaval she has endured. Born into an Armenian family, she spent most of her life in Aleppo, Syria, where she had an idyllic childhood. She fondly reminisces: “I was an AGBU girl scout and participated in the drumline for seven years.”

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Koushian frequently appears in panels about dealing with adversity and coming from a refugee background.

Koushian frequently appears in panels about dealing with adversity and coming from a refugee background.
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Koushian frequently appears in panels about dealing with adversity and coming from a refugee background.

After completing her studies at the Armenian Central High School, she pursued a degree in economics with a focus on finance and banking. And upon graduation in 2011, she diligently worked toward a career in the banking sector. Bright, passionate and rooted, Koushian’s future in Syria seemed full of promise. “The thought of leaving my hometown never crossed my mind,” she says.

However, her hopes and dreams were cruelly shattered with the outbreak of the Syrian War and the subsequent unrest in Aleppo. “What was once a safe haven became a battleground. I experienced this firsthand on a fateful summer day in August 2012, as my commute to work turned into a nightmare. My bus became trapped in the crossfire between the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army,” she recounts.

Koushian was a casualty of the horrifying incident, suffering a fractured skull and a brain hemorrhage. Miraculously, she received emergency medical treatment in a nearby hospital just in time, narrowly escaping paralysis thanks to the skill of a talented surgeon. “Despite this harrowing experience, I remained determined to contribute to the rebuilding of my beloved Aleppo. Yet, repeated encounters with danger, including rocket strikes near my home, forced me and my family to reconsider our future,” she says.

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In her role at South32 Koushian educates individuals and organizations on the importance of cyber-security practices.

In her role at South32 Koushian educates individuals and organizations on the importance of cyber-security practices.
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In her role at South32 Koushian educates individuals and organizations on the importance of cyber-security practices.

Once Koushian and her family made the difficult decision to leave Syria, they embarked on the complicated process of emigration. “We chose to relocate to Australia, but our journey there was far from easy. Obtaining a humanitarian visa required us to be outside the conflict zone and to have a direct family member as an Australian citizen sponsor,” she explains.

Undeterred by multiple visa rejections, the Koushians persevered to achieve their goal. For nearly two years, they resided in Lebanon under harsh economic circumstances. Notwithstanding the trials and tribulations, Koushian found meaningful employment, working directly with Syrian refugees who, like her, had fled the war-torn country. “I shared their stories through various media formats. The experience was not only rewarding, it also allowed me to connect with individuals who shared similar struggles,” she admits.

Finally, in August 2016, the Koushians left the turbulence of the Middle East behind them to start a new life in the unfamiliar city of Perth, Australia. There, extended family members welcomed them and helped them settle. Although she was relieved to be safe with her loved ones, Koushian quickly recognized the need to enhance her skills to secure employment and advance in her career, and within a few short months of arriving in Australia, she decided to pursue a master’s degree. “My passion for international development, particularly in the realms of politics and development, fueled my desire to specialize in this field. Subsequently, I was admitted to the University of Western Australia (UWA) to pursue my post-graduate degree, a pivotal moment that marked the beginning of establishing my life and professional network in Australia, fostering a sense of belonging,” she says.

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Koushian raised almost $6,000 USD to help with the 2023 Syria earthquake relief efforts.

Koushian raised almost $6,000 USD to help with the 2023 Syria earthquake relief efforts.
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Koushian raised almost $6,000 USD to help with the 2023 Syria earthquake relief efforts.

Simultaneously, Koushian engaged in volunteer work with esteemed organizations such as Amnesty International and the Red Cross, contributing to causes closest to her heart. Remarkably, she was able to balance part-time studies with full-time work. “An opportunity arose with South32, facilitated by Refugee Talent, a program aimed at helping refugees and migrants find employment. I joined the company’s finance team in 2018 on a one-year contract, and here we are, six years down the road,” she says.

Through hard work, skill and sheer determination, Koushian has thrived at South32, a leading mining and metals company that specializes in commodities including bauxite, alumina, aluminum, copper, silver, lead, zinc and nickel. “The thrill of exploration and discovery of new metals is exhilarating. I encounter daily challenges that push me to evolve, learn new skills and grow, and I find the mining industry to be uniquely suited to my adventurous nature. The industry’s commitment to technological innovation particularly excites me,” she says.

In her role at South32, Koushian educates individuals and organizations on the importance of cybersecurity practices, policies and technologies to mitigate risks associated with digital threats. She confesses that the greatest challenges she faces often revolve around overcoming misconceptions, resistance to change and keeping pace with evolving cyber threats. “Engaging diverse audiences with varying levels of technical expertise and cultural background can also be demanding. However, the most rewarding moments are witnessing the positive impact of increased awareness, such as reduced incidents of cyber attacks, improved security hygiene among users and a culture of vigilance within the organization. These moments affirm the value of proactive cybersecurity education and advocacy efforts,” she states.

My ambition is to serve as an example that a woman from a minority social group in a ‘developing’ country can indeed achieve success.

It is clear that Koushian is deeply respected in the workplace and has made a significant impact on the industry. In 2022, she was named one of the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining (WIM100), a testament to her commitment to the sector and proof that anything is possible with the right mindset and a strong will.

While she has adapted to an entirely new environment and made great strides in her professional life, Koushian has remained steadfast in supporting her community in Aleppo, especially in times of crisis. In 2023, a massive earthquake in southern Turkey was felt across northern Syria, resulting in huge loss of life, widespread destruction and the displacement of millions. “Waking up to the earthquake news shook me to my core, stirring up past traumas and highlighting my sense of helplessness, residing thousands of miles away from my homeland. It compelled me to take action, to aid our people and community there, and to enlighten Australians unaware of Armenia and Armenians,” she says.

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Koushian received her master’s degree in International Development from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Koushian received her master’s degree in International Development from the University of Western Australia (UWA).
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Koushian received her master’s degree in International Development from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Through a breakfast fundraiser organized by Koushian and her family, almost $6,000 USD was raised and directed to AGBU to support the earthquake relief efforts. “We prepared Syrian Armenian cuisine, engaged in educational activities and shared our personal narrative. The second event took place at my workplace, featuring another informative session and the distribution of Armenian creatives’ books, aimed at familiarizing attendees with Armenian culture,” she adds.

As Koushian gracefully juggles a successful career, social work, motherhood—she has just welcomed her first baby—and other demanding roles, she remains firmly focused on her aspirations. “My ambition is to serve as an example that a woman from a minority social group in a ‘developing’ country can indeed achieve success,” she says.

If her indomitable spirit is anything to go by, Koushian will remain resolutely focused on making her dreams come true. 

Originally published in the June 2024 ​issue of AGBU Insider. end character

About the AGBU Insider

AGBU Insider profiles extraordinary AGBU program alumni across a diverse set of industries and passions. With exclusive interviews and photography, each issue reveals the Armenian impact on society, community, and industry.