What will happen to 90-years-old Melkonian?

Thousands of graduates of the educational institute in Cyprus want to know what will happen to Melkonian...

Established in 1926 by Krikor and Garabed Melkonian brothers in Cyprus, Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI) has celebrated the 90th anniversary of its foundation this year. On the occasion of the 90th anniversary, the graduates of the institute organized a celebration and commemoration event in Cyprus. MEİ has been closed since June 2005 by the decision of Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Central Executive Board. Thousands of graduates haven't been succeed in convincing AGBU to reopen the institute despite their countless efforts. Constituting the last pillar of Western Armenian language and culture, the institution is abandoned to its fate. Thanks to Fethiye Çetin's article published in Agos, we found out that the historical buildings are in bad shape. Afterwards, we asked some questions concerning the future of Melkonian to the responsible parties. Unfortunately, AGBU's response frustrated us. Though we desperately tried to contact to AGBU President Berge Setrakian, the answer came from AGBU Education Department Head Artoun Hamalan. The response was as the following: “Before we decided to close Melkonian on June 2005, our central executive board had discussed this issue in a very detailed way. Back then, the official statement of our union was released and our attitude was presented. After all, I don't think that there is any recent development that makes re-answering your questions necessary. The attitude of our union is clear and hasn't been changed since then.”

This statement means that Melkonian's land will be sold in order to provide fund for educational activities in Armenia. However, Cyprus government registered that land as “unsaleable cultural asset” in 2007. This dilemma raises the question whether this valuable institution will be let to rot.

Led by Mesrob Mutafyan, graduates of Melkonian living in Istanbul struggled to initiate the reopening of the school. Famous second-hand bookseller Püzant Akbaş was one of those graduates. Here are the highlights of our conversation with Akbaş about the history of the school, the struggle for it and the reason why it should be reopened.

66,000 English gold coins

“Established by the donations of Krikor and Garabed Melkonian brothers, Melkonian Educational Institute's construction was started in 1924 and completed after 2 years. Melkonian brothers had been engaged in tobacco trade in Egypt during World War I and their business was of great volume. After the construction of Melkonian was completed, they donated 66,000 English gold coins for the survival of the school. The school was established for taking care of the majority of Armenian orphans in Middle East and provide them a good education.”

International prestige

“Successfully maintaining its mission of sheltering orphans and preparing them for life, Melkonian became a unique safe haven for Armenians during World War II. People like Püzant Yeğyayan, Vahan Tekeyan and Hagop Oşagan worked as teachers and principals in the school. The school had always have a qualified teaching staff; thus, the graduates made great contributions to Western Armenian language and culture. I started to go to Melkonian in 1962. Even then, there were many scholarship students. I mean, the funds were enough for maintaining the school back then. During my term, it was internationally renowned and respected. Students were able to continue their education in England or in the US with their diplomas that were compatible to educational systems of those countries.”

It had income

“In the foundation certificate, the administration of the school was left to AGBU, Patriarchate of Constantinople and Jerusalem. Over the years, AGBU became dominant in the administration and ended up being the sole authority during the last period. When they decided to close the school in 2004, it had 250 students. Modern buildings were added to the complex and with the commercial complex built within the land of school, they had been receiving rental income. Moreover, there was enough space to built another commercial complex. Their justification for closure was the number of students. However, students from Armenia and other countries were coming to the school.”

Efforts of Mutafyan

“When AGBU's closure decision was put on the agenda, two graduates from the US contacted to Patriarch Mutafyan and asked for support. His Eminence Mesrob Mutafyan wanted to keep the school open and made efforts for it. He went to Patriarchate of Jerusalem and researched the archives of Patriarch of Constantinople Zaven Der Yeğyayan. I still remember what he told me: 'In the first box that I opened in Jerusalem, I found the foundation certificate of Melkonian brothers. When I saw that document, I realized that I should do whatever I can for keeping the school open.” Our Patriarch really devoted himself to this issue, but because of his medical condition, he couldn't have continued. He played a major part in the lawsuit against AGBU. After he fell ill, the lawsuit was decided against us. Unfortunately, he went through very troubled times because of Melkonian case. For the graduates of Melkonian, the Patriarchate of Constantinople's support was very important. This support influenced Cyprus government, which suspended the sale of the school land. That certificate is in the archive of the Patriarchate today, but nobody from the Patriarchate has done anything after Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan.”

Given the situation in Middle East...

“If AGBU would decide reopen the school after all these years, they could easily find support for this project. Melkonian Alumni has many supporters. On the other hand, the situation in Middle East and the condition of Armenians living in the region is obvious. Even in Beirut, Armenian population is decreased. Given these conditions, Melkonian would be very useful. There is no reason for keeping it closed. Selling the land in Cyprus and moving Melkonian to Armenia is against Melkonian brothers' will and their certificate.”

Raffi Zinzalian: You will hear that AGBU is closing sales in the coming years

Melkonian Alumni and Friends Association Chair Raffi Zinzalian made important statements concerning the recent condition of Melkonian. Being one of the prominent figures who have been struggling for reopening of the school, Zinzalian pointed out that AGBU has financial problems:

As Melkonian Alumni and Friends Association, all of our efforts, including our latest campaign that we launched in 2014, for reaching an agreement with AGBU have been left unanswered. The efforts of our philanthropist friends from Sweden, who have been supporting us from the beginning, is at a dead end now.

We should understand AGBU's condition. The current board has no sources for reopening Melkonian. They even have difficulties to keep their own school open. We understand that perfectly.

AGBU desires to obtain an operational budget by selling the land of Melkonian. With that budget, it will survive in diaspora for another 10 years and after that, they will move to Armenia, keeping only a few centers open. Probably next year, you will hear that AGBU is closing sale of some parts of the land of Melkonian.

Since Armenia's independence, institutions and parties in diaspora have been trying to be more active in the homeland. Sometimes, such efforts cause them to cut down some supporting activities in diaspora.

We, as diaspora Armenians who acknowledge the facts, are still hopeful about the reopening of Melkonian. On the other hand, year after year, possibilities for achieving our goal waste away. However, some wealthy Armenians, like Melkonian or Esayan brothers, might come together and work for reopening Melkonian. I don't see why not.”



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Baruyr Kuyumciyan