NICOSIA (Gibrahayer)–Over 200 students of the Melkonian Institute walked out of their classes Tuesday after news emerged that a US-based foundation that runs the 78-year-old school in Nicosia has decided to shut it down in June 2005–and will sell the prime assets–whisking up to $80 million out of Cyprus.
Holding placards condemning the sale–students stood at the main gate and in front of the founder’s mausoleum–chanting "Melkonian Not for Sale."
Headquartered in New York–the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) which has managed the Melkonian Institute since 1928–has decided to close the historic school in 16 months time–without providing sufficient justification for its move.
In an official announcement–the AGBU-NY said that after "extensive deliberations and thorough assessment–the Central Board has resolved unanimously to discontinue MEI in June 2005. This decision is based largely on the Board’s conclusion that MEI no longer meets the challenges of its mission in the present context of the Armenian world."
The decision is hotly challenged by the worldwide Melkonian Alumni and Armenian Diaspora organizations–with the Cyprus Alumni employing all means to overturn the decision.
The Cyprus government–all political parties–and leading Greek Cypriot personalities support the efforts of the Armenian community to keep Melkonian open–considering the school a part of their national heritage and culture of the island.
Last month–a government cabinet–headed by President Tassos Papadopoulos–allocated an additional aid package to keep Melkonian in Cyprus.
Alumni representatives say the core issue is the prime land on which the school is located and the intention of the AGBU to sell the land and whisk up to $80 million out of Cyprus–to use for unspecified purposes. They said that the move also violates the provisions of the will of the Melkonian brothers–who established the school in 1926–initially as an orphanage for children surviving the Genocide.
The Alumni intends to bring in international experts to strengthen its defense–as it moves to contest the decision and block sale plans in courts–and has already sought legal advice from law firms in Cyprus and abroad.
"It is not just a matter of the sale of the land and the flight of some 80 million dollars to the US–in violation of a 1926 will by the founders–but also abuse of the rights of Armenian children who are being deprived of their human right to a fair education based on their cultural heritage," says the Alumni.
The local Armenian community plans a mass demonstration on March 24 in front of Melkonian to show its disdain at the decision–and to raise awareness among the Cypriot population to ignore a press marketing campaign employed by the US-based organization.
Melkonian students are facing the risk of being expelled–according to Masis Der Parthogh–the vice president of the school’s Alumni Association.
He argued that officials of the AGBU based in New York have sent warning messages that they would expel any school children who take part in any activities or demonstrations opposed to the Melkonian’s closure.
The same students–however–seem fearless of any repercussions as they stayed away from classes yesterday and the day before.
Furthermore–they are getting ready to take part in the large demonstration on Wednesday. The vice president of the Alumni–whose daughter is also a student at the school–said that the children have lost their will to attend classes–as they know that in fifteen months’ time–their school will be shut down. He added–however–that the Armenian community of Cyprus will not give up so easily and will use every legal means possible to overturn the decision.
Meanwhile–the Alumni Association recently sent a letter to the Presidential Palace–protesting that the agency handling public relations for AGBU has strong ties to a leading political state official.
Local TV and radio stations–as well as Cypriot press have given widespread coverage to the sale of Melkonian.