Nicosia: Armenians plead school case in Parliament

Cyprus Mail, Cyprus
March 24 2004

Armenians plead school case in Parliament
By George Psyllides

THE Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) yesterday failed to
convince the House Education Committee on why it wanted to shut down
the Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI), though deputies admitted
there was little parliament could do to reverse the decision.

The AGBU decided to close down the school, saying it no longer
fulfilled the duties it had been set up to carry out.

But the Armenian community is furious at the decision, and has
claimed financial interests are dictating the fate of the historical

The representative of the Armenian community in Parliament, deputy
Bedros Kalaidjian, appealed to the government for help, otherwise the
Armenian community would be left without any secondary education.

`We cannot imagine an Armenian community without the Melkonian,’
Kalaidjian told the committee.

`It is a national treasure,’ he added.

In a statement read by lawyer Freda Georgiou, AGBU said the vision of
the benefactors – the Melkonian brothers – could be better achieved
through new programmes that would be more beneficial to a much larger
spectrum of the diaspora and those of Armenia itself.

`AGBU regrets the painful decision to close the Melkonian Boarding
School but taking into consideration the long term goals of the
benefiting Armenians globally, this decision must be adhered to, as
will be future decisions concerning schools in other host countries,’
the statement said.

The AGBU stressed that the MEI matter was not a political one, but
concerned an internal decision of a philanthropic organisation, which
is managing its assets in the wisest possible manner with a view to
serving the best interests of the Armenians.
But a member of the school board charged that the AGBU wanted to
close down the school and set up summer camps in other countries
where they would try to teach the Armenian language and culture in
two or three months.

The alumni association disputed the AGBU’s jurisdiction on the
school, adding that the Union’s arguments were not convincing.

On November 14, 2003, the AGBU had said they were not shutting down
the school, yet just three months later this was exactly what they
were doing, the association said.
The alumni urged the government to intervene, declare the school of
national importance, and minimise the building coefficient to deter

Some say the land on which the school is built is worth £40 million.

AGBU representative Dr Gordon Anderson said a very small number of
Armenians went to the school to justify its operation.

He said the AGBU was looking into three alternatives: setting up a
day school, entering a partnership with an existing institution, or
creating an Armenian department in one of the existing schools.

DISY deputy Ionas Nicolaou asked whether the school’s trust fund was
deposited in Cyprus, only to be told that the AGBU had nothing
deposited or registered in Cyprus.
However, the school receives government subsidies and only
Cyprus-registered philanthropic organisations are entitled to such

The alternative for the Cyprus government is to declare the school a
historical site and its surroundings a protected environment thus
putting an end to any plans for its development.

But one deputy told the Cyprus Mail that this would be a hostile act
and should only be used as a last resort.

Anderson stressed that there were no plans to demolish or sell the
buildings, but when asked by DISY deputy Nicos Tornaritis whether
AGBU would agree to listing the buildings, he said the AGBU objected.

`I think AGBU likes to have flexibility on the use of the buildings,’
Anderson said.
He said the AGBU also strongly objected the area being designated as
a forest.
`If we are going to assist Armenians we need to maximise assets,’ he

The proceeds of a commercial centre operating next to the school all
go straight to the Armenian community, he added.

He repeated that pupil numbers were declining – averaging just 5.7
pupils per year from the island’s Armenian community in the last few
years, with the others coming from abroad.

The AGBU plans to shut the school down in June 2005.