By Emil Danielyan
U.S. billionaire Kirk Kerkorian and French singer Charles Aznavour, two of the world’s most famous ethnic Armenians, were granted on Thursday Armenia’s highest state award in recognition of their long-standing support for the country of their ancestors.
President Robert Kocharian bestowed the titles of “national hero” on the two elderly men in separate decrees signed ahead of Friday’s official holiday marking the 86th anniversary of the restoration of Armenian statehood. A statement by Kocharian’s office paid tribute to “exceptional services” provided Kerkorian and Aznavour’s role in “presenting Armenia to the world.”
The decrees were made possible by recent amendments to an Armenian law which made foreign citizens eligible for the top state honor.
Kerkorian, 86, has been Armenia’s by far the largest Diaspora benefactor since independence, having donated about $180 million through his charity, the Lincy Foundation. The bulk of the money has been allocated and spent since 2001 on various infrastructure projects. Those include the repair of 420 kilometers of major highways and the construction of 3,700 new apartments in the country’s northwestern regions hit hard by the 1988 catastrophic earthquake.
The Lincy chairman, Jim Aljian, and his deputy Harut Sassounian were awarded Armenian Anania Shirakatsi medals for their role in the projects.
Kerkorian is known around the world as the owner of the Nevada-based Tracinda corporation. Among its biggest holdings are the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer entertainment group and the MGM-Mirage casino and operator. Kerkorian is also a major shareholder in the U.S.-German Daimler-Chrysler auto giant. The reclusive tycoon visited Armenia shortly after Kocharian became president in 1998.
Aznavour was also at the forefront of Diaspora efforts to help victims of the Armenian earthquake and has developed a close personal relationship with Kocharian in recent years. Kocharian was in Paris earlier this month to attend the crooner’s concert devoted his 80th birth anniversary.
(Photolur archive: Kirk Kerkorian.)