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New threat to Melkonian just months after reprieve

By Jean Christou

A representative of the New York-based Armenian foundation that runs the Melkonian Institute in Nicosia has hinted that the 78-year-old school, will close, only three months after the organisation said it was not for sale.

In a paid advertorial that appeared in the local press on Friday, Gordon Anderson, the American representative of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) said that in order to provide education for the local children who are forced to leave if the school shuts its doors, “several options are being considered” to accommodate the 200 or so students at other schools so that they can gain an education “that will have an Armenian component”.

The AGBU administers 22 Armenian schools worldwide including the loss-making Melkonian, which was founded in 1926 and is today the only secondary school in Cyprus for the 3,000-strong Armenian community.

The advertorial opens with Anderson stating that “no decision has been made on the future of the Melkonian” but reading through the text it becomes clear that the AGBU is leaning towards closure. “It is the hope of the Central Board that when the decision is announced, all parties will understand the logic and reasoning behind that decision,” Anderson said.

In the same advertorial he adds that for the overseas students, as the Melkonian is the only boarding school of its kind in the Middle East and Europe, the AGBU help them find alternative sources of education of the same level as that offered by the Melkonian, because “AGBU has a commitment to all children of the Diaspora.”

In November the AGBU said that reports that the school, sitting on a £40 million plot in the capital’s commercial district, was up for grabs by developers and would be sold, were unfounded and false.

According to opponents of the school’s closure, the AGBU has hired Marketway to act as its PR firm in Cyprus to boost its image and draw up a strategy plan to soften the blow when the decision is announced around March 15, and to help quash strong opposition from the local Armenian community against the plans to shut down the school and whisk the proceeds from the land sale out of the country.

The strategy is said to include lobbying various opposition groups to explain the decision and to present possible offers to counterbalance the impact and answer fears and concerns, such as “replacing” the school with a possible research centre, depending on how much the AGBU is willing to commit to such a move.

The Cyprus government, all political parties and leading Greek Cypriot personalities support the efforts of the Armenian community to keep the Melkonian open, as they consider the Melkonian as part of the national heritage and culture of the island.

Last month, the cabinet, headed by President Tassos Papadopoulos allocated an additional aid package towards efforts to keep the Melkonian in Cyprus in a development which will further embarrass the US-based leadership of the AGBU, opponents say..

The school’s alumni, which is now spearheading the campaign to keep the Melkonian open, views with deep suspicions another comment made by Anderson that “if the decision is taken to close the respected institution, the AGBU will discuss and explore alternative possibilities for the facilities with other educational establishments and the government”

The school’s alumni, representing over a thousand graduates who are spread around the world, said the issue was not the compatibility of the Melkonian’s mission within the AGBU’s global plans, as the school has its own goals. It was founded as a separate institute and until recently had its own trust fund that seems to have been absorbed within the millions of the New York-based group’s working capital.

“We are currently seeking legal advice from firms in Nicosia and intend to incorporate others with international expertise to strengthen our defence,” the alumni said.

“It is not just a matter of the sale of the land and the flight of some 80 million dollars to the US in violation of a 1926 will by the founders, but also abuse of the rights of Armenian children who are being deprived their human right to a fair education based on their cultural heritage.

“The EU has recognised Armenian as a minority language thanks to the efforts from Cyprus, for which Greek Cypriot deputies worked in unison with the local community. This means that it will be easier to secure additional funding from Brussels or other European sources to ensure the school’s viability.

“Worst of all, however, is that clear cut proposals have been sent to New York since last December, with the AGBU Central Board refusing to discuss ways to save the school as their main aim is to take the money and run. All this talk about cooperating with other institutions, research centres and even universities is a public relations gimmick that aims to mislead the Cyprus government in allowing the sale and subsequent export of the funds,” said the alumni.”

Contacted by the Sunday Mail, spokesman at the AGBU declined to comment on Friday.

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