ISTANBUL, March 13 (LRAPER Church Bulletin). His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, answered questions posed by the Noyan Tapan information agency. The following is the authorized translation from Western Armenian to English.
Q. – Your Beatitude, Armenians worldwide are concerned with the dispute concerning the Melkonian Educational Institute that is evolving between the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU). Please, present the background of this issue briefly.
A. – Let me summarize. In 1921, Karapet Melkonian transferred to the Patriarchate of Istanbul a donation of 400,000 Egyptian pounds which was worth at the time 3,5 million dollars. In 1924, Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan of blessed memory, established a school and an orphanage in the city of Nicosia, Cyprus, with the income from this donation. He named it the Melkonian Educational Institute. In 1925, Patriarch Zaven transferred the Cyprus MEI and the entire Melkonian fund to the AGBU. It is to be noted that the AGBU received everything from the Istanbul Patriarchate. In 1926, with a court decision an agreement was signed between Karapet Melkonian, Patriarch Zaven and the AGBU. According to this agreement, the AGBU must keep the Melkonian Educational 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, as well as 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. With regret, I followed the conflicting opinions on this matter published in the Armenian media. However, on December 26, 2004, I personally saw, for the first time, the official copy of the 1926 agreement. It was now clear that the lawful successors to Patriarch Zaven had the right to intervene in the issue. Therefore, 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.
Q. – How do you assess the AGBU announcement of their wish to establish a similar institution in Armenia, instead of keeping the Melkonian Educational Institute open?
A. – What does “similar” institution mean? How can the only Armenian senior high school operating in the European Union be replaced with a new school in Armenia? Opening a new school in Armenia will cost, with the most exaggerated estimate, 2-3 million US dollars. The AGBU elite or their flatterers can easily afford such a school in Armenia, so the closure of yet another school operating in Europe is not necessary at all. One ponders: if the land and buildings of the Melkonian Educational Institute are sold, the AGBU would earn, according to Cypriot Armenians, perhaps more than 120 million US dollars. 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 an ethnophile and he left his wealth to the children of his nation through this Patriarchal See. Thus, in the words of the Gospel, today we can all say to the AGBU “Give an account of thy stewardship.”
Q. – So, may we conclude that the primary goal of the Patriarchate is to maintain the Melkonian Educational Institute, rather than getting funds from the will of patron Melkonian?
A. – Naturally. Already, the Patriarchate receives annually a certain allocation. In 2004, I wouldn’t know the figures by heart, but I suppose we received something like 1,600 US dollars. A little more or less will not create a significant change in our annual budget. What is important is this:
Like every charitable institution, the AGBU, also, must be accountable to our people. What happened to the 3,5 million US dollars of the 1920s? How much money is left in the Melkonian fund today? Let them inform the nation.
Q. – In the critical observations addressed to you, among others, there was an accusation that you have not attempted to settle the dispute with the AGBU by way of negotiations prior to taking legal action. Please comment on this.
A. – We would be pleased if they were satisfied only with critical observations. Also prior to the Catholicosal Elections in 1999, when they supposed that I would declare my candidacy – then proposed by certain clergymen presently occupying primatial sees – they began to try to stick mud on me, and to defame me with false accusations and slanderous expressions via hired pens in the Armenian media. Other potential candidates, too, were treated in the same way. It is bad and immoral people who resort to such methods when they fear that their interests are endangered. Today, too, the same circles resort to the same murky methods, due to their lack of moral and intellectual probity. A pity! As for the
negotiations: 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? Let me say why. Because it does not wish to negotiate. It must not be forgotten that no reply has been given to the letters and criticisms directed at the AGBU, to this day. In other words, the accusation should be reversed and directed to the AGBU.
Q. – Do you see any prospect today of avoiding the judicial act and achieve an agreement with the AGBU?
A. – In response to Californian mediators, we already expressed willingness, two months ago, to receive an AGBU delegation in Istanbul. Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend the purpose of the heinous announcement of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party, as well as other media assaults. It is possible that they think it more opportune to negotiate after having dealt blows. They are mistaken.