By Jean Christou
AS SCHOOLS around the island prepare for the new school year, the doors of the Melkonian Educational Institute were firmly closed yesterday as Armenian parents gave up an 18-month battle to save the secondary school from being shut down.
It appears the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), which administers some 22 Armenian schools worldwide, has won, at least temporarily, its campaign to shut down the school, founded by the Melkonian brothers nearly 80 years ago.
The case has now moved to the US courts where the school’s future will ultimately be decided, but this could take a number of years, by which time the island’s Armenian children will have integrated mainstream schools.
Armenian parents yesterday began registering their children in private secondary schools. According to Shavasb Bohdjalian, the chairman of the Melkonian Alumni, most of the Armenian pupils will be going to the American academy in Nicosia, “but there are a sizeable amount at other schools,” he said.
Bohdjalian said there were no protests planned. “The whole thing is in the courts now and they are delaying the dates and the judges are giving new dates,” he said. “We keep going and coming back. We just want the children to continue to get whatever education they can and we are continuing the fight in the courts. Unless we manage to pull the Melkonian out from under the control of the AGBU, there is nothing we can do about it.”
He said the school was just sitting idle at the moment, and that the AGBU had moved their administration to a side building.
As a, parent Bohdjalian said having to register his child at a new non-Armenian school had been difficult. “Today my wife went to register my daughter at the American Academy. It was a terrible feeling and there were so many others from the Melkonian there. It was terrible after so many years at the Melkonian to have to move somewhere else,” he said. “The kids are all unhappy but kids adjust quickly in life and many of them are still together. They are sad about it but kids are kids and they will adjust.”
Bohdjalian said it was the same for the Melkonian teachers. He said either they were still unemployed or were going to work at other schools.
Sixty of the Institute’s 200 or so pupils were from Cyprus but the Melkonian also catered for Armenian students from Greece, Lebanon, Syria, the US, Canada, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania, among others.
Around 60-65 per cent of Armenian students in Nicosia attended the Melkonian, while another 25 per cent attend the English School and a smaller percentage other private schools.
“It’s not the end of the world. The fight continues. Our main objective was to make it to the opening of the school but the fact that chance has gone now moves the fight to the courtroom,” Bohdjalian added.
Earlier this year, Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, Patriarch of all Armenians in Turkey, filed suit in Los Angeles against the AGBU in an attempt to prevent the closure of the MEI.
The action is being co-ordinated and mediated by the California group on behalf of the Patriarchate, a beneficiary of Garabed Melkonian’s Deed of assignment. Garabed Melkonian was one of the two sibling founders of the school, 78 years ago.
The 3,000-strong Armenian community, the school’s alumni and other friends of the Melkonain believe the true motive of the closure is financial, given that the school is sitting on some £40 million worth of commercial real estate in the capital.