Oct 072011
 October 7, 2011  Add comments

 (The Armenian version)

This is a response to a letter of resentment, titled “Correction: About ‘Hayastan’ All-Armenian Fund,” by Bedros Terzian, President of “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund in France and a member of its Board of Trustees. “Correction” was published in issue #200 of Nor Haratch, a Paris-based Armenian language newspaper, on April 5, 2011, as a response to the coverage of “To Donate Or Not to Donate?”, a white paper on “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund in four consecutive issues of Nor Haratch, which published its own response to Mr. Terzian’s letter in the same issue: “Armenian Journalism Targeted: Answer to ‘Correction.'”

"Elephant in the Room" by Banksy

"Elephant in the Room" by Banksy

It was a true joy to learn that two months later, in April 2011, Bedros Terzian, President of “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund (HAAF) in France, finally saw the elephant in the room, and directed his resentment at the right addressee.

What elephant? What resentment? What addressee? The elephant is the white paper on HAAF titled “To Donate Or Not to Donate?” an alternative to propagandistic and often misleading information the concerned public has to hear from the Fund representatives. In an earlier letter of resentment published in Nouvelles d’Arménie in February 2011, Mr. Bedros Terzian was slamming two forum users, who had dared to openly discuss the paper’s critical issues regarding the Fund in the online forum of the French-Armenian journal. It was surprising that Mr. Terzian had not written a single word about either the very source of those discussions, the white paper, or me, the author.

Four days after that letter, Part III of the white paper was published, where I touched on Terzian’s failure to see the elephant in the room. But no response followed it until Nor Haratch, an Armenian language newspaper in France, presented the first three parts of the white paper on HAAF in four consecutive issues in March 2011, thus breaking Mr. Terzian’s patience. In May 2011, he came up with quite a slanderous and defamatory note aimed at both the newspaper’s editorship and me.

Unfortunately, only four months later—the end of September of 2011—I found out about the existence of Mr. Terzian’s response from third parties, since Nor Haratch, alas, had neither notified me about covering the white paper in their newspaper, nor about Terzian’s response. I salute the thorough review of the white paper by Nor Haratch, nevertheless, I should note that “To Donate Or Not to Donate?” was mistakenly presented in issue #200 as a result of 19-year research conducted by the Policy Forum Armenia. Although I am a member of the Policy Forum Armenia, the white paper and the related research were my personal initiative.

My true joy upon learning about Terzian’s response faltered a little after I realized that Mr. Terzian was relentless in his determination not to see the elephant, at least in its entirety. “I will answer those accusations one by one, in the order presented in Nor Haratch,” he writes. That is to say, he intends to respond not to the actual white paper but its summary. It is a comfortable choice, since it is the lesser of two “evils”. First of all, the summary does not include Part IV of the white paper, which was published in June 2011. Secondly, a summary implies inevitability of missing important details. For instance, in its summary of Part III of the white paper Nor Haratch did not mention my finding about Bedros Terzian’s intention to quit the Fund, disenchanted by the bloody events on March 1st 2008. According to my well-informed and confidential source, he was successfully convinced to stay.

This omission by Nor Haratch has relieved Mr. Bedros Terzian of the burden to comment on this controversial moment in the history of his warm relationship with HAAF. But were he to confirm this information, he would have devalued his long and contemptuous references to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which cut Armenia’s aid significantly due to the bloodshed and drastic failure of democracy in March 2008. It is this resentment toward the humanitarian and democratic failure where the Millennium Challenge Corporation and Bedros Terzian (if only temporarily) had something in common.

And I have to disagree with both Nor Haratch (issue #194) and Mr. Terzian in their assessment of such a stance being solely political. Above all, this was a humanitarian disaster, which should concern any organization claiming to be humanitarian. I had drawn a particular attention toward the irony that raising the issue of bloodshed, notwithstanding the context, had left an impression that MCC is more concerned about the Armenian citizen than HAAF that had swallowed the crime perpetrated by its own leaders. What I appreciated about the Millennium Challenge Corporation was not its structure or affiliation with the U.S. government, but the demand for accountability from the Diaspora-pampered Armenian government. I regret that Mr. Terzian swayed from his position and, thereby, practically doomed himself to defending the crooks ruling over him and the poverty-stricken Armenia.

How come discussing Armenian-Turkish diplomatic relations at a Fund’s annual session is okay, whereas raising the March 1st killing of Armenian citizens is a political issue and, thus, incompatible with the Fund’s apolitical status? Has any one of those philanthropists expressed a purely philanthropic concern over the death of ten fellow Armenians in a brutal crackdown for the sake of yet another illegitimate president of Armenia?

In another instance, to prove me wrong about the government’s unquestionable control over the Fund, Mr. Terzian chooses to diminish the importance of numerous arguments scattered throughout the entire white paper by singling out the one I presented more as an appendix, a symbolic confirmation, rather than an argument: the address of the Fund in the government building.

With 18 years of service to the Fund, Mr. Terzian appears to be unaware of the actual number of Trustees of the Board: “Of the 35 HAAF Executive Council members, 25 are from Diaspora and consequently form the majority.” According to the HAAF official website, the total number is 37 (excluding Louise Simone Manoogian, Honorary member of the Board of Trustees). As for the actual ratio of Diasporans vs. government officials in the Board of Trustees it is  23 vs. 12 (including Charles Aznavour as Armenia’s Ambassador to Switzerland). This ratio does not include Garegin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, and Robert Kocharyan, former President of Armenia, since they are not Diasporan or government officials. But this is not as essential as the stubborn refusal of Mr. Terzian and other Fund representatives to publicly acknowledge the fact that the very Board has a Presidium of 12 members, where that seeming minority of government officials becomes the majority and occupies all the leading positions, with the President of the country as the President of the Presidium of the Board of Trustees: 7 government officials vs. 4 Diasporans (including such a subservient Diasporan as Samvel Karapetyan from Russia), plus Garegin II, who has repeatedly proven to be just another marionette of the de facto president of Armenia.

By the way, the information about the existence of the Presidium is in accordance with the bylaws of the Fund, which I had a hard time getting from the Fund’s administration. There is no word about this governing structure in the Fund’s official website, except for an indication of the president and two vice-presidents of the Board of Trustees. My attempt to use the Fund database for my research preceded your cordial invitations to visit the Fund offices and explore. But the response to my second or third request for the bylaws was less cordial. “I had more important things to do other than providing info to a person who bashes Armenia…” wrote Sarkis Kotanjian, Executive Director of the HAAF Western Region, to me in a Facebook message. Mr. Kotanjian even tried bartering the HAAF bylaws for those of the Shahan Natalie Family Foundation, an NGO I represent, before emailing them to me.  If providing the bylaws causes such indignation, I can only imagine the range of emotions a request for financial documents would kindle.

Mr. Terzian questions the reliability of the white paper on HAAF by discrediting newspapers as a whole: “Since when do say-so’s gathered from newspapers have the power of proof? Since when?” The editorship of Nor Haratch has spared me a response with an impressive remark: “However, despite this belief, he turns to the pages of my newspaper for his self-defense. Will he qualify his statements tomorrow as say-so, just because they’re laid out in a newspaper?” By focusing exclusively on the newspapers as a source for the white paper, Mr. Terzian carefully circumvents the fact that a significant part of my information comes both from my personal experience and well-informed present and former Fund representatives, who probably know far more about the Fund than he, but choose to remain anonymous.

By alluding to the prestige of Grant Thornton, Mr. Terzian wishes to impart credibility to the financial side of the Fund: “Also, Grant Thornton, the internationally renowned foundation, which performs both financial and physical oversight, that is, of implementations.” In this regard, Nor Haratch draws parallels with the failure of far more reputable auditors, which contributed significantly to the economic crisis of 2008. “Even such an internationally renowned person as Madoff, the glory of the financial world, managed to steal $50 billion, in spite of the multitude of auditors,” the newspaper writes.

The tactics of turning a blind eye to tougher arguments becomes more obvious when Mr. Terzian chooses to focus on the reasons for Raffi Hovannisian’s resignation as the Fund’s executive director, while avoiding a much more relevant subject; such as the president’s office illicitly ordering the Fund’s executive director to transfer large amounts of Fund money to accounts unrelated to fund activities.

A few days ago, during a Q&A session following the presentation of Family of Shadows, a memoir by Garin Hovannisian at California State University, Northridge, I notified the author about HAAF Executive Director Ara Vardanyan’s refutation of the above-mentioned story. Mr. Hovannisian said: “I can say and I will say very firmly that I strongly believe in everything that I write. And, as a journalist, I cannot bring myself to write anything that I even suspect to be dishonest.” Frankly speaking, I have more reasons to believe this young man than the second illegitimate president of Armenia, who is well-known for machinations of larger scale, which made him one of the richest people in Armenia during his illegitimate presidency.

Rather than acknowledging their shortcomings and promising a fresh start, the Fund prefers to whitewash the past and persuade the public that their knowledge of the abuses is nothing more than gossip and illusion. However, this is largely the official stance. The same Sarkis Kotanjian, who was absolutely denying any past mistakes on TV, shows a completely different picture in a Facebook discussion about the tenure of Manushak Petrosyan as the Executive Director of HAAF: “As I said before (in another unofficial, off-the-record discussion, A.K.M.),  no doubt mistakes have been made in the past, abuses have taken places, but Hayastan All-Armenian Fund has learned from its mistakes, fired its share of people, added new control mechanisms and implementation protocols and now for the past 3 years, thank God, is moving in the right direction” (sic).

If there is no doubt about the mistakes, why isn’t this “newer” and “better” administration publicly admitting it and pursuing legal solutions against its “worse” predecessors? What kind of a message does this lack of accountability and impunity send to the current and future leaderships of the Fund? That, in a worst-case scenario, they can get away with their violations by merely getting fired. What message does this send to the donors? Instead of retrieving the stolen funds by legal prosecution, the “newer” and “better” HAAF administration tolerates the illicit practice of forcing public and civil servants to donate with a predetermined deduction from their salary. Admitting the fact of Manushak Petrosyan’s abuses, Stepan Partamian, Music Producer of the Fund’s Telethon, said in a discussion: “ARA everyone knows that” (sic). Everyone, except for the likes of Ara Boyajian (Canada), another Trustee of the Fund, and Mr. Terzian, although I believe the “unofficial versions” of these persons have alternative opinions about not only the legacy of Manushak but also the Fund’s leadership, past and present in general. And, finally, how reliable are the counter-arguments of someone who sings odes to one of the most corrupt leaders in the history of the Fund, whereas his colleagues have already come to terms with this fact?

I hope that Mr. Bedros Terzian, like the other Board members, will face the realities of HAAF as documented in all four parts of the white paper with honesty and forthrightness, rather than engagement of their defense mechanisms. I believe that, despite the government’s tight grip on the Fund, the delegates of the Armenian communities worldwide on the board of HAAF can make a difference. With their cooperation and understanding, the recommendations made in the white paper can be implemented, and HAAF could be reformed significantly.

Ara K. Manoogian is a human rights activist representing the Shahan Natalie Family Foundation in Artsakh and Armenia; a Fellow of the Washington-based Policy Forum Armenia (PFA); creator of www.thetruthmustbetold.com and author of the white paper “To Donate Or Not to Donate”, an in-depth study on the activities of the “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund