By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
A leading Armenian-American advocacy group plans to spend at least $50 million on a new building complex in central Washington that will house a museum of the Armenian Genocide, an affiliate research center and its own new headquarters.
The Armenian Assembly of America will expand the former US Federal Reserve Bank building which it acquired in March 2000. Assembly officials say work on their most expensive undertaking yet will take between four and six years. They say they will launch fund-raising activities in Armenian communities across the United States and elsewhere in the world to implement the project.
According to Ross Vartian, the project head and the Assembly’s former executive director, the Genocide Museum will host permanent and traveling exhibits, have its own website, and engage in educational and other public programs.
"The important thing is that we are in the capital of the United States, we are just in two blocs from White House and all of these activities will be done in perpetuity, even after a universal affirmation of the Armenian Genocide," Vartian told RFE/RL on Friday.
"The experts that we hired estimated that approximately 250,000 people will be able to visit the museum. Our best estimates at this time is that this entire project will cost at least $50 million dollars and probably higher," he said.
The building, which is included in the US National Registry of Historic Places, was purchased in February of 2000 with the financial assistance of Gerard Cafesjian, a US millionaire businessman of Armenian origin.
With an annual budget of some $4 million, the Assembly is one of two influential Armenian-American lobbying groups active on Capitol Hill. It was actively involved in a controversial US-backed initiative to improve relations between Armenia and Turkey which appears to have collapsed last December.
Vartian said there is no contradiction between the group’s strong support for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and its continuing campaign for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide which Ankara vehemently denies.
"We do believe that the dialogue between Turks and Armenians is very important. We will continue to look for opportunities to promote it," he said, adding that the Turkish government is unhappy with the Assembly plans to open the genocide museum.
"They are concerned about the impact of our success and we obviously will work towards that success. But no pressure has resulted from that concern", he said.