By Hrach Melkumian
The Lincy Foundation of Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian has put an end to its sponsorship of a Yerevan-based think-tank and publications controlled by Raffi Hovannisian, a U.S.-born popular opposition politician, it was announced on Friday.
Aides to Hovannisian, who was Armenia’s foreign minister in 1992, said his Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) will freeze activities and its 50-strong staff will indefinitely not be paid starting from June 1. They said the continued existence of the daily newspaper “Orran” and “Hayatsk Yerevanits” magazine founded by Hovannisian is also in doubt.
“Orran” started publishing last year and has been very critical of President Robert Kocharian and his government. According to the ACNIS’s director for research, Tatul Manaserian, the paper is likely to be transformed into a weekly publication in a drastic cost-cutting measure. Manaserian claimed that Lincy has axed its “hefty” funding under pressure from the Armenian authorities angry at Hovannisian’s support for President Robert Kocharian’s political opponents.
“The Lincy Foundation has long supported us,” Manaserian told. “There have been repeated attempts to thwart that assistance for political considerations. They were not successful until recently.”
“But now that source of funding is diminishing, if not disappearing altogether,” he added. “As things stand now, we are not very optimistic.”
However, the ACNIS director, Hrach Hakobian, contradicted Manaserian’s charges, saying that he does not think that Kocharian’s administration had a role in Lincy’s decision. He said Hovannisian and his allies are looking for alternative sources of financing their structures.
Hakobian and Manaserian declined to specify the amount of financial assistance provided by Kerkorian’s charity. The Lincy Foundation has been the single largest contributor of multimillion Diaspora aid to Armenia, having set aside a total of $170 million for various projects designed to repair the country’s Soviet-era infrastructure and provide local businesses with cheap credit. The projects’ implementation is being personally overseen by the chief of Kocharian’s administration, Artashes Tumanian.
Lincy has no permanent office in Armenia and it was not immediately possible to obtain its explanation for its decision to stop supporting Hovannisian’s structures. The ex-minister, who was given an Armenian passport only two years ago, fell out with Kocharian after the latter refused to grant him ten-year retroactive citizenship that would have allowed him to contest this year’s presidential election.
Hovannisian was controversially denied official registration as a presidential candidate and subsequently endorsed Kocharian’s main opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian. He publicly referred to Demirchian as the legitimate winner of the disputed vote.