AAA leaders continue to hold up Armenian Genocide museum
by Vincent Lima
Published: Tuesday March 29, 2011
Pittsford, N.Y. - The leaders of the Armenian Assembly of America, Hirair Hovnanian and Van Krikorian, continue to block and delay the Armenian Genocide museum and memorial in Washington. They do so by openly refusing to comply with the orders of a federal court. And they do so by filing legal motions so ludicrous that they would be laughable if they were not so harmful.
The grand vision is to build an impressive museum and living memorial to the Armenian Genocide in Washington, two blocks from the White House. It is a project larger than any ever undertaken by the Armenian-American community. It will take money and hard work on such a scale that it will require Armenians to set aside their differences, come together, and work together.
The groundwork has been laid. The bulk of the property on which the museum is to be erected was purchased over the last decade by Gerard L. Cafesjian and the Cafesjian Family Foundation (CFF). Since the project was too large for the Armenian Assembly of America, the initial sponsoring organization, it was in 2003 transferred to a new entity set up for the purpose, the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial (AGM&M), Inc.
In donating the property, Mr. Cafesjian and CFF set certain conditions – as donors do – and the parties, including Mr. Hovnanian and the Armenian Assembly, agreed to these conditions: Individuals designated by CFF would be among the trustees of the museum in perpetuity, and the museum would have to be finished promptly – by December 31, 2010. Otherwise, the property would revert to CFF.
A model of ingratitude
Instead of working with Mr. Cafesjian and the community at large to build this museum and memorial, as agreed, the leaders of the Armenian Assembly took a different course of action. They eliminated the donor from the board and went to court to keep the property. They even moved the offices of the Assembly into the property donated to build the museum.
Their case amounted to a number of accusations against Mr. Cafesjian and his associates. They spent millions of dollars on their lawsuit, and they caused Mr. Cafesjian and CFF to spend millions. But in the end they failed. Their accusations proved baseless.
A trial was held in Washington between November 9 and 29 before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. The judge heard from over 20 witnesses and had a chance to assess their credibility. She reviewed scores of documents. She then issued a 190-page opinion and an order. The court ordered: "AGM&M shall transfer the Grant Property to CFF" in accordance with the reversion clause of the grant agreement.
Meanwhile, the board of CFF has decided to continue to dedicate the Grant Property to the vision of building an impressive Armenian Genocide museum and memorial – and to do so with the participation of the Armenian community.
The process is not moving forward, however, because Mr. Hovnanian and Mr. Krikorian are refusing to carry out the clear, unequivocal order of the judge: "AGM&M shall transfer the Grant Property to CFF."
First, the Armenian Assembly changed lawyers and asked for time to consider their options. Their new lawyers advertise themselves as "no-nonsense" litigators, so there was some hope that their next steps would be sensible.
But lo and behold, their next step was to launch an attack on the judge, moving for a brand-new trial on the grounds that the judge and Mr. Cafesjian were both art collectors and thus "share a ‘special gene' possessed by collectors." You can't make this stuff up!
The Assembly also claims the judge is biased because she was appointed by President Bill Clinton, who was friends with the former president of West Publishing, where Mr. Cafesjian was formerly employed!
Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, both appointed by Mr. Clinton to the Supreme Court, did not recuse themselves in Clinton v. Paula Jones – where Mr. Clinton himself was a party – and a judge is supposed to recuse herself when the party is a former colleague of a friend of the former president?
What must sting
Since the Assembly was not actually building a museum in Washington, and since the Assembly did not actually control AGM&M, Inc., the inevitable removal of the properties will not cause the Assembly any real pain. So why not show leadership and let the project move forward?
Personal animus is part of the explanation: As the judge noted in her findings of fact, Mr. Hovnanian had vowed in 2006, "I'll spend every last nickel that I have to destroy him and his Foundation." He was referring to Mr. Cafesjian and CFF. This was not a dispute in good faith, but a failed effort by Mr. Hovnanian to destroy a man who did not defer to him. The Genocide museum and memorial were potential collateral damage.
But I believe the explanation for the actions of the Assembly leaders must go beyond personal animus. As I noted in an earlier article, Mr. Hovnanian and Mr. Krikorian took a gamble and lost. They angrily attacked Mr. Cafesjian and his associate John Waters - much as they are now attacking the judge.
In considering the allegations, many supporters of the Assembly were willing to give Mr. Hovnanian and Mr. Krikorian the benefit of the doubt. Now, however, an impartial federal judge of excellent repute has found their claims to be without merit. What must sting the most is that word, "impartial."
And so, to salvage their reputation in front of their friends and associates, they are trying to cast a shadow on that key word. But the case they make is so farcical that no one will buy it.