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20 08 2008 - Patriarch dismayed at ‘loss’ of Melkonian fortune
Glastonbury Review - July 2005
Patriarch dismayed at ‘loss’ of Melkonian fortune
The Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey His Beatitude Mesrob II has expressed his deep concern and dismay over the possible loss of a substantial legacy which was meant to benefit young Armenians. The money was left to the Armenian people by a wealthy compatriot and could amount to many millions of dollars.
In 1921 Karapet Melkonian, a noted benefactor of the Armenian Orthodox Church, left in his will a small fortune to the Patriarchate of Istanbul. This sizeable donation amounted to 400,000 Egyptian Pounds and at the time it was equivalent to 3,5 million US dollars.
Income from the investment of this legacy was used in 1924 by Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan to establish a school and an orphanage in the city of Nicosia , Cyprus . In moves which threaten to completely disregard the original will, the school now faces imminent closure.
In 1926 the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) acquired the Melkonian Educational Institute after it signed an agreement with Karapet Melkonian and Patriarch Zaven. The Cyprus MEI and the entire Melkonian fund was transferred to the AGBU on the understanding that the Institute would be kept open. Now, despite a court’s decision, the clear instructions of a legal agreement are being flouted and Patriarch Mesrob is incensed.
In a recent interview, Patriarch Mesrob said, “According to this [legal] agreement, the AGBU must keep the Institute open, provide it with necessary funds, pay 1,000 Egyptian pounds per annum to the Jerusalem Patriarchate, 1,500 Egyptian pounds per annum to the Istanbul Patriarchate, and open a kindergarten for Armenians living in Alexandria.”
In 2004, however, the AGBU announced its decision to close down the Melkonian Educational Institute, which is the only 12-year Armenian school within the European Union. Patriarch Mesrob said, “It is to be noted that the AGBU received everything from the Istanbul Patriarchate. They stand to make millions of dollars in profit by closing the Institute and those in the Armenian diaspora will lose out, especially the children. I cannot stand by and let this happen.”
The AGBU has announced plans to open a similar institution in Armenia but Patriarch Mesrob does not accept this is a viable alternative. He said, “What does a ‘similar institution’ mean? How can the only Armenian senior high school operating in the European Union be replaced with a new school in Armenia ?”
Patriarch Mesrob estimates that a new school in Armenia could be built for 2 to 3 million US dollars, yet, according to Cypriot Armenians, the sale of the land and buildings belonging to the Melkonian Educational Institute could earn more than 120 million US dollars. Patriarch Mesrob added, “There is also the Melkonian fund itself, which, according to experts, would comprise no less than 20 million US dollars if it has been reasonably managed. What are they going to do with this sum? Our people have a right to know.”
Karapet Melkonian was described as an ethnophile and he left his wealth to the children of his nation through the Patriarchal See of Istambul. Patriarch Mesrob’s declared intention is to maintain the Melkonian Educational Institute for the benefit of the Armenian people. He said, “What happened to the 3,5 million US dollars of the 1920s? How much money is left in the Melkonian fund today? Let [the AGBU] inform the nation.”
He explained, “The current successor of Patriarch Zaven is the guarantor of the Melkonian will. Why has the AGBU not applied to the Patriarchate to this day?” And the Patriarch has evidence to back up his claim. “I personally saw the official copy of the 1926 agreement,” he said. “It is clear that the lawful successors to Patriarch Zaven had the right to intervene in the issue.”
However, Patriarch Mesrob is not optimistic about achieving an agreement with the AGBU and avoiding judicial action. “In January, we took legal action against the AGBU in the California supreme court to withdraw the decision to close down the Melkonian Educational Institute” said the Patriarch. He refutes the accusation that he has not attempted to settle the dispute with the AGBU by way of negotiation prior to taking legal action. He said, “We already expressed willingness, two months ago, to receive an AGBU delegation in Istanbul .” The Patriarch feels that the only response to his ‘olive branch’ was a series of media assaults.
It could be some time before an agreement as to the future of the Melkonian Educational Institute is reached. In the meantime, the Armenian children and young students who have until now benefited from the generosity of the patriotic benefactor Karapet Melkonian face an uncertain future.


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