Nicosia: Melkonian school to close

Cyprus Mail, Cyprus
March 16 2004

Melkonian school to close
By Jean Christou

THE MELKONIAN Educational Institute in Nicosia is to close from June
2005, the New York-based foundation that administers Armenian schools
worldwide announced yesterday.

The move by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), which said
only three months ago that the 78-year-old school was not for sale,
has angered the 3,000-strong Armenian community on the island.

They said yesterday they planned to stage a demonstration on March 24
against the closure of the school, while the Melkonian’s alumni hope
to take legal action.

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

But in its announcement yesterday, the AGBU said that after
`extensive deliberations and thorough assessment’, the Central Board
had resolved unanimously to discontinue the school in June 2005.

`The Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI), as a significant and
historical institution within AGBU, has been a concern of the Central
Board over many years. This decision is based largely on the Board’s
conclusion that MEI no longer meets the challenges of its mission in
the present context of the Armenian world,’ the AGBU said.

`The ultimate objective is to lay their hands on the land and take
the funds out of Cyprus,’ Shavasb Bohdjalian, head of the alumni,
told the Cyprus Mail yesterday.

Since the controversy began, the Armenian community has managed to
have the Melkonian declared a listed building and has persuaded the
Forestry Department to file an application to declare the wooded area
in the grounds as a protected forest. Legal action is now being
considered, Bohdjalian said. If there is a case, it is likely to be
fought in the Cypriot courts, he said.

In a paid advertorial that appeared in local papers 10 days ago,
Gordon Anderson, the American representative of the AGBU, said that
`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
Melkonian, which was founded in 1926 and is today the only secondary
school in Cyprus for the Armenian community.

`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,’ the alumni said. `It’s also abuse of the rights of
Armenian children who are being deprived their human right to a fair
education based on their cultural heritage,’ they said, adding that
the AGBU Central Board had refused to discuss ways to save the school
because their main aim was `to take the money and run’.

The AGBU said the Central Board fully recognised and honoured the
continued legacy of the Melkonian Brothers, and `is determined to
perpetuate their memory through new educational programmes to be
implemented within and outside Cyprus, in line with the spirit of
their donation to AGBU’.

However, the alumni said the AGBU’s talk of co-operating with other
institutions, research centres and even universities was a public
relations gimmick that aimed to mislead the Cyprus government into
allowing the sale and subsequent export of the funds.