BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
In a recent column titled, “There is a Time to Sue and a Time to Settle,” I urged the Armenian-American community to come together and launch the long-awaited Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial in Washington, located two blocks from the White House.
I made that suggestion after a federal judge ruled that the Cafesjian Family Foundation is the rightful owner of the Museum buildings. Many Armenian-Americans were hopeful that the court’s verdict would put an end to several years of legal wrangling that delayed the development of the Genocide Museum and cost millions of dollars in attorney fees.
Although many in the Armenian community welcomed my call for a united effort to make the Museum a reality on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian Assembly’s leadership disagreed, and proceeded to appeal the court’s verdict. Of course, the Assembly has the right to appeal, but doing so may not be the right course of action. Continuing the litigation would further delay the creation of an Armenian Genocide Museum in the nation’s capital, and undermine not only the interests of the Armenian-American community, but also the interests of the Assembly itself!
Members and supporters of the Assembly must be concerned about the insistence of some of their leaders to prolong this legal dispute. It would have been far more preferable to devote their limited resources to expand the organization’s social and political activities that have been considerably curtailed in recent years because of the economic downturn and the departure of key staff members from its offices in Washington, Los Angeles, and Yerevan. The organization’s finances were also impacted due to the loss of several Assembly donors after some of its leaders got involved in the highly controversial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC). The Assembly acknowledged that shortage of funds was the reason for its decision to withdraw from the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of seven largest Armenian-American philanthropic and religious organizations that has provided over $600 million of humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh since the 1988 earthquake.
Under these circumstances, it may be counterproductive for the Assembly’s leaders to spend millions of more dollars to appeal the verdict, particularly since the Judge ruled that in addition to paying their own legal expenses, they have to reimburse Mr. Gerard Cafesjian for a portion of his attorney fees, which could be a substantial sum! Those funds could be better utilized to re-energize the Assembly’s lobbying work in Washington or to fund other worthy projects, such as the Genocide Museum.
The Assembly leaders also do not need to waste their efforts by re-trying their legal case in the media. The California Courier received last week a letter to the editor signed by a gracious and generous couple who are major supporters of the Armenian Assembly. They were expressing disagreement with my column titled, “There is a Time to Sue and a Time to Settle.” Interestingly, parts of this letter bore some similarity to a press release issued by the Assembly a week earlier. In fact, the text reads more like a court brief drafted by an attorney than a letter expressing a reader’s opinion. The letter was sent to 10 Armenian newspapers and websites in the U.S. and Canada, asking them to publish it as a response to my column which did not appear in some of these news outlets.
I sincerely hope that the Assembly leaders are not engaged in wasteful efforts to conduct letter-writing campaigns in a vain attempt to win a war of words with the media, because there is no point in re-trying a lawsuit in the pages of a newspaper! That issue has already been settled in a court of law by an independent federal judge.
Nevertheless, a hopeful sign emerged last week, buried deep amid the disputes and recriminations. In an “Open Letter,” Mr. Hirair Hovnanian, Chairman of the Armenian Assembly, suggested that he “may be able to convince all interested parties to agree not to file an appeal,” if Mr. Cafesjian would guarantee the development of the Genocide Museum.
Since Mr. Cafesjian has already made such a commitment in court, the time has come to bury the hatchet, end all lawsuits and appeals, and go on with the important task of forming a pan-Armenian entity that would establish an Armenian Genocide Museum in Washington by April 24, 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.