OPINION – Time for government to pay the Armenians back for their loyalty
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
SO THE rumours were true: the Melkonian School is set to close at the
end of the next school year — June 2005 — after a proud history of
almost 80 years, serving Armenians on the island, as well as the wider
The Armenian community in Cyprus has for years served as a role model
for community relations, maintaining a remarkable balance between
integration and identity. The Melkonian School has been a key element
in that balance, providing the children of Armenian families with an
education that nurtured that identity in a foreign land.
For a diaspora community, a full secondary education is the key to
survival, a role that cannot be filled with Sunday school lessons
nurturing an identity as living as the sepia photographs on our
grandparents’ walls. Until now, the existence in Cyprus of a full
Armenian curriculum taking children all the way through to adulthood
has been a recognition of the status of the community on the island.
The AGBU – the American-based foundation that runs Armenian schools
worldwide – defends its decision to close the school: it points out
the Melkonian’s dwindling attendance and financial deficit, but
focuses its criticism mainly on its recent educational performance.
If, the foundation argues, the Melkonian had “provided exceptional
opportunities to its students as it had done in the past, substantial
subsidisation would be warranted. Unfortunately, this is not the
The AGBU also points out that about 90 per cent of children in the
diaspora are not educated in Armenian schools and the money may be
better spent in other educational programmes.
Fair enough. But Cyprus is different: the Armenians are a recognised
community according to the constitution. So if the AGBU is not willing
to maintain the school, the Cyprus government should step in. Already,
the building has been declared a listed site, while moves are under
way to have the grounds declared as protected forest, preventing the
developers from barging in.
These are steps in the right direction, but more still needs to be
done. The AGBU clearly paints a picture of financial crisis at the
Melkonian, and saving the school from sale is only part of the
equation, which needs to be accompanied by a cash commitment and
substantial reform of the institution.
The government must show its willingness to help the school
financially if it is to survive. Surely one of the main rights of a
recognised community is the right to their own education. The
Armenians in Cyprus have shown extraordinary loyalty to the Greek
Cypriots. It is time to pay them back.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2004