In a communiqué dated November 14, 2003, the Armenian General Benevolent Union announced that all the news that was being spread in connection with the sale of the Melkonian Educational Institution (MEI) property was baseless and false. The intended message was: "Don’t pay attention to these reports; it’s been decided that the MEI property will not be sold." An American, Gordon Anderson, was sent to Cyprus for this purpose; having enjoyed the hospitality of the MEI for months, he met with construction companies and agents just so the Central Board could tell the world, "the Melkonian property is not for sale."
One can only laugh at this pitiful game being played by the Central Board, which is making all the necessary preparations to close down the MEI and yet, by means of mutually contradictory verbal announcements, is attempting to confuse the people. However, nobody is being fooled by their strategy and they already know the outcome at the end of the movie that is under production. Those wishing to participate in the tender can submit their bids in sealed envelopes to Mr. Anderson so that he, may sort through them and make the selling decision based on a logical arrangement.
For months, the Central Board has left the worried general populace, the parents of MEI pupils and the AGBU membership wallow in a state of indecision, so that those parents would make arrangements to place their children in other educational institutions for the next school year. That way, the MEI is becoming evacuated, as it happened during this school year. Meanwhile, the familiar authorities who sit on the Central Board are telling the parents and the general populace, "See, there are no pupils. What can we do? We’re forced to close the MEI down."
Now, however, the refrain has changed. It is being said that "MEI is no longer serving its purpose; therefore, the boarding division will be closed down but the commuting pupils’ division will remain open." What an interesting and convincing logic! With the grace of God and the fervent prayer of the responsible parties, the commuting pupils will come down from heaven to make the MEI flourish and to constitute a sufficient number so we can have an MEI with commuting pupils. Our people, including the AGBU membership, are being treated as if they can’t hear, don’t read, can’t reason and who knows what else, in order for such a sour thought to be stuffed into their minds.
But no, this explanation is a figuratively used statement, which says, "The Melkonian property will be sold. No matter what you say, no matter what you write, no matter how much you scream and holler against that move, we have decided to sell. And, do you know what we’re going to do with the proceeds? We don’t need to tell you, just as we did not give importance to your outbursts by not publishing MEI’s budget, as a matter of policy unique to the AGBU. Who said that the AGBU is a transparent glass house?"
From one day to the next, there are new reasons given for closing the MEI down. Now the emphasis is being placed on the drop in MEI’s overall standards, particularly in connection with Armenological subjects, although this was one of the initial reasons, alongside other explanations.
In this regard, I cannot make assertions, despite the fact that the contents of the MEI periodical enthuse all those who are interested in the school. However, if there is truly a drop in standards, or budgetary constraints, the cause of them is solely the Central Board of the AGBU, since it appointed the school’s principal eight years ago. It gave her exceptional powers, rendering the MEI’s trustees, who had been assembled from centers scattered all over the world, into an inconsequential committee.
The Central Board, whose members live in the New York metropolitan area and are uninformed about the conditions and needs of the Middle East, wished to judge the MEI by American criteria, without ever inquiring as to what was transpir ing within the MEI from a pedagogical and financial standpoint. Prior to 1995, the MEI, throughout its almost 70-year existence has always had a board of trustees that was composed of serious, earnest individuals selected from Cyprus itself. These board members were seriously concerned with the MEI’s educational and financial issues. Possessing a national consciousness, they reviewed and studied all the issues presented, together with the principal;
They paid close attention to MEI’s academic accreditation, as well as ensuring an acceptable degree of fiscal improvement. What was the board of trustees constituted after 1995 expected to do, when its members, selected from outside of Cyprus, could neither follow the MEI’s regular course day to day, nor express its point of view on arrangements made or to be made; it wasn’t permitted to do so. The board of trustees could not, or did not have the right to, inquire into the decisions made within the MEI; on the other hand, the Central Board of the AGBU allowed the school to continue its course toward dissolution for years so that, one day, with a clear conscience, it could close the MEI down and sell the property, citing the undesirable situation created as the reason.
There is talk about the disproportional tuition payments, the degree of which is said not to exist even in the US; there is talk about the presence of superfluous staff at the MEI; there is talk of exaggerated efforts toward innovation; there is talk of extravagant travel arrangements. If the Central Board had given total freedom to the new principal, why didn’t it ever inquire into the financial and educational quality of MEI?
The party responsible for all the reasons advanced by the Central Board is none other than the Central Board itself, because it prepared this situation through years of planning, and today our people, particularly those who are interested in MEI, very clearly see those planned moves, such that the Central Board should not consider these people to be immature, naïve and uninformed. The verdict of Diasporan Armenian history for each member of the Central Board will be a heavy one, owing to the deadly blow landed by them to our tremendous sacrifices, our ever-increasing efforts for national self-preservation.
History does not correct such irremediable mistakes.
How laughable it is to announce that the MEI property will not be sold! After the boarding division is shut down, naturally, the commuting pupil’s division will not only shut down immediately; it will not even have a primitive ex istence, since a property worth some $80 million is not kept for 30-40 pupils; neither will the Central Board maintain a property worth $80 million as a monument to the Melkonian Brothers. Everybody knows very well where the proceeds from the sale will go, how they will melt away. In today’s world, no longer are there persons stupid or naïve enough to wonder where sums of money resulting from unannounced decisions go. Why doesn’t the Central Board announce its subsequent plans? If a plan hasn’t been developed yet, it will be drawn up and then the MEI will be closed down. We are of the opinion that the leadership of the Central Board is familiar with this elementary modus operandi. I use the word "leadership" because I know that all the members of the Central Board are not interested in this fundamental national issue and they accept the decision of a few members as the gospel truth.
The Central Board is still trying to convince those in its circles that those who are stirring up trouble are a small group. They are grossly in error; there are large numbers of dissatisfied people, individuals who are opposed to the closure of MEI — not only Melkonian alumni but also all AGBU circles. If they believe that those in favor of keeping MEI open comprise a small group, then why doesn’t the Central Board issue a circular asking the opinion of AGBU circles?
No one on the Central Board knows well the importance of the MEI for our compatriots in the various countries of the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Iran) as well as the Eastern European and the Balkan countries. The MEI is extremely relevant for these countries in terms of preservation of national identity and that supersedes all other considerations. Hearing their earnest appeals, it is possible to state, with responsible awareness and studied zeal, as well as concern for our national welfare, that our compatriots in these countries need the Melkonian Educational Institution as much as they need "bread and water."
At this new stage in international and Armenian affairs, MEI is vitally needed for our nation. Its closing is a wrong move; it will be the most tragic move made by the AGBU, one causing the most harm to our nation, and those determining the current policy of the Central Board will be subject to severe indictment by our people in the court of history.
All the reasons given by them are incorrect. They are simply blinded by the material value of the MEI. But when they try to actually realize the value of the MEI property, they will see that they have erred to the extreme in their calculations and that they have been deceived by those wishing to snatch the property. A significant portion of this plot of ground, by municipal law, shall be designated as a public park. This has been drawn on our plan of the cadastre, ever since the first partial sale was made. A significant portion of the property shall be allocated to roads. The Center of the local chapter of the AGBU, which was built with the financial means of the district, uses the entrance of the MEI. If the MEI property is sold, the area from the main road up to the eastern boundaries of the center must be given to the center in order for the local chapter to gain entrance to it. There is also the matter of taxes to be paid at the time of sale, particularly since the government today is opposed to the closure of the MEI. The sales tax amounts to 25 percent.
According to the bylaws of the AGBU, it is not possible to divert a bequest from its purpose if the possibility of its execution exists. At present, the Melkonian will is applicable. Its incomes are:
a. The MEI receives $550,000 from the income-producing property built on its land.
b. The government promised to contribute $200,000 (100,000 Cypriot pounds) annually to the MEI’s budget.
c. The government pays $2,500 annually for each of the 50 Cypriot pupils, which makes for a total of $100,000.
d. The government furnishes three teachers to the MEI, paying approximately $100,000.
e. Furthermore, the government plans to improve the MEI’s soccer fields and tennis, basketball and volleyball courts. Once these projects are completed, these fields and courts will bring a considerable income to the MEI.
f. If the Melkonian Fund, which amounts to approximately $6,500,000, is properly managed, it should earn $250,000.
Our suggestion is to immediately erect a second income-producing center on the MEI’s property, part of whose rental income could be used to pay off the institution’s debt to the bank while another part could be allocated to the MEI budget. When the bank loan is totally paid off, the rental income in its entirety could then be allocated to the MEI.
The Central Board states that the MEI can accommodate 350 pupils but that the pupils are lacking. This is a decrease in student enrollment organized by the Central Board as well, because the latter consciously made annual increases in the tuition fees required from the pupils, knowing that those from Eastern Europe or the Middle East, not to mention Armenia, could not pay those sums. Of course, the enrollment would decrease that way, and it would close the MEI according to its envisioned plan in a justified manner. It was the obligation of the Central Board to create favorable financial conditions for those pupils; in that event, it would have been seen that the MEI’s resources would not have been sufficient to give a positive reply to all the applications.
There is yet another unfounded objection [to keeping the MEI’s doors open]. It is said that the pupils coming from Armenia, instead of returning there, are going to the United States or Europe. What is so inopportune about that? Does Armenia really need the presence of those few youths with an ethnic Armenian education, in order to encourage national preservation? The other side is that they are doing much more useful work in Diasporan Armenian communities. On this occasion, it can be stated that the biggest percentage of the AGBU bequests has been received from the Middle East and Europe. Today, not only are mere crumbs being given to those regions but they are also being deprived of their fortresses of self-defense. That is not appropriate and it can cause reactions. If the educational standard of the MEI has weakened through the irresponsibility of the Central Board, that and everything else can be improved — if there is good will — through a Cypriot Armenian board of trustees, comprised of new and able members, which will take responsibility for the MEI’s quality and financial status.
As a strong believer in the AGBU with decades of service to it, I appeal to each and every one of you one more time, and this time with a feeling of great responsibility, to reexamine your decision and, with the courage of all our former presidents, to refrain from that decision which is draining for the nation, because that will cause the dissolution of, and demoralize, all the circles of the AGBU and its membership. Courageously appeal to our people, saying that it has been decided to conduct a major fund-raising campaign in order to rescue the overall educational work of the MEI, as all our presidents have done when such a demand has surfaced.
A final concern. You, the participants who were present at the Los Angeles General Assembly, took it by surprise in transforming the AGBU into a capital fund. That was not a correct and appropriate act, because many of those present probably did not understand what was being proposed for them to vote on and so they raised their hands without realizing what a dangerous and damaging position they were putting the AGBU in. The proper method to change the bylaws would have been to send the proposal for the change in the bylaws to the chapters months earlier, so they could study it.
As a result of the change, members cannot nominate the members of the Central Board — and, secondly, by that process, the AGBU lost its national profile — the Central Board became severed from its membership. Now, strengthened by that wrong decision, another wrong move will totally dissolve the organization and, like our King Ardavazd II, we will say that the new president and his followers shall preside over ruins.
By Haygashen Ouzounian
(Translated by Aris G. Sevag)
The Armenian Mirror Spectator, 4 march 2004