The most ambitious and most pressing project before the Armenian diaspora today is the development, by April 24, 2015, of an Armenian Genocide memorial and museum in Washington.
This unprecedented, permanent tribute to our martyred forebears is long overdue and has been unnecessarily delayed. Its commanding presence just two blocks from the White House will be an ongoing reminder of our past and a warning against forgetting. Its exhibits and educational activities, as well as its work to prevent genocide, will be part of our collective contribution to a brighter future for humanity. Through research and documentation, through outreach, and through effective use of technology, it will be a resource for the United States and the world.
We know we need to build this museum by April 24, 2015, the one-hundredth anniversary of the Genocide. We know the Armenian nation has the desire, the resources, and the determination to make this project a reality.
The project has been tied up in the courts, as is well known. Upon prevailing in the litigation, the Cafesjian Family Foundation renewed its longstanding commitment to completing the project with the full participation of the Armenian community. That is the only way the project can be completed, and that is how it must be completed.
When the federal district judge rendered her decision on January 26, 2011, the Cafesjian Family Foundation was ready to move forward without delay. The expectation was that title to the properties would be handed over promptly and unconditionally – as required by the original grant agreement of 2003 and as ordered by the judge. Alas, the leadership of the Armenian Assembly of America chose a different route. Its choice has been to do everything in its power to delay and hence undermine the project.
In any dispute, there’s a time to pause and ask oneself, “What am I trying to achieve?” If the Assembly leadership wants to see the museum built, and built promptly, then it should stop obstructing progress.
In a court document filed on June 21, the Armenian Assembly claimed that it “hopes and intends to be a part of” the Armenian Genocide museum and memorial and stands behind “means of fostering community support.” The Cafesjian Family Foundation, in turn, has stated repeatedly that it seeks the participation of the whole community, including the Armenian Assembly, to develop the entire property assemblage for the exclusive purpose of an Armenian Genocide museum and memorial.
So why does the Assembly leadership insist on blocking the project? If the Assembly’s leaders truly want this project to move forward, here’s what they can do:
1. End the media campaign to retry the case now that it is over
If you wish to foster community support for the project, do not send out news releases repeating allegations that have already been rejected in court.
In the recent open letter from Hirair Hovnanian and in the press release signed by Joyce Philibosian Stein and Joe Stein, there are many statements that are incorrect.
Of course, it’s simple to do a point-by-point refutation of these statements. Indeed, it’s tempting to respond with stories of how the bad conduct of some of the principals of the Armenian Assembly was exposed in court. But this sort of public argument neither helps move the project forward nor helps foster community support for the project.
The judge’s detailed findings are the most straightforward antidote to the Assembly’s campaign. [See memorandum opinions of January 26 and May 9.]
In a sense, the most harmful myth promoted by the Assembly’s various news releases is the notion that the legal controversy has not been resolved. It is inconceivable that the fundamental finding in the case – that the reversion clause of the grant agreement is valid and enforceable – will be overturned. The appeal process will waste legal fees and time, but it will not change the outcome.
2. Drop the appeal
The only consequence of the proposed appeal will be to squander more time and money. Anyone who has read the judge’s careful and conservative decision will understand this.
The bulk of the Grant Property was donated conditionally by Gerard L. Cafesjian and the Cafesjian Family Foundation; under a reversion clause, the entire Grant Property would revert to the donor if the museum and memorial were not finished by the end of 2010. Mr. Cafesjian inserted a reversion clause for two reasons: First, to provide an ample, ten-year incentive to complete the project. And second, to guard against anyone for any reason selling off or borrowing against the essential additional properties he had acquired and donated for the exclusive purpose of an expanded Armenian Genocide museum and memorial.
The plaintiffs in the case – the Armenian Assembly, et al. – sought to invalidate the reversion clause. Assembly officials made various arguments. For example, they claimed that they had not known about the clause. Aside from the fact that responsible men and women are expected to read multimillion dollar agreements before signing them, it was shown in court that they had in fact discussed the reversion clause and negotiated it – and indeed, Hirair Hovnanian had included a similar clause in his own grant agreement!