By Anna Saghabalian
Mark Geragos, a U.S. celebrity lawyer of Armenian descent, was appointed on Friday to the governing board of a pan-Armenian charity, promising to enlist some of his world-famous clients for its fund-raising efforts.
Geragos, who has represented U.S. pop icon Michael Jackson and Hollywood star Winona Ryder, joined the Board of Trustees of the All-Armenian Fund Hayastan during its annual meeting in Yerevan.
The body is chaired by President Robert Kocharian and comprises other senior Armenian government officials as well as leaders of Armenian Diaspora communities around the world. They reviewed the fund’s ongoing activities and plans for the future.
The focus of those activities remains large-scale infrastructure projects in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The fund has raised, mainly in the United States and Europe, and spent tens of millions of dollars for that purpose ever since its establishment in 1992.
Geragos has already been actively involved in annual Los Angeles-based telethons that raise a large part of Hayastan’s revenues. He said he will try to get some of the Hollywood celebrities that have used his expensive services to participate in the next televised fund-raiser which is due to take place this November.
“I will talk to a number of clients,” Geragos told reporters. “I think a couple of them will participate in the telethon this year.”
The attorney has also represented the heirs of victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in their class-action lawsuits against big U.S. and French insurance companied that were accused of failing to pay death benefits for their insurance policies purchased by Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Both insurers chose to settle the suits with a combined payout of $37 million.
Hayastan, meanwhile, is looking to complete its single largest project yet: the $25 million construction of a 170-kilometer road that will link the northern and southern parts of Karabakh. Work on the so-called “backbone” highway began in 2000 and is slated for completion next year.
The fund, according to its executive director, Naira Melkumian, received some $12.7 million in donations last year, up from $5 million reported in 2003. Melkumian said that despite the sizable increase she believes the fund can and must raise at least $20 million a year. “We are confident that the potential of our people is greater,” she said.
Diaspora-based members of the Hayastan board said a further increase in donations is hampered by a continuing lack of Diaspora trust in the efficiency of the charity and the integrity of its top executives. “There are people in the Diaspora who lack trust, for right or wrong reasons,” said Ruben Vasilian of the Armenian community in Germany. “We must be more transparent.”
Both Vasilian and a board member representing the Argenitian-Armenian community, George Vatbaronian, complained about the quality of construction work commissioned by the fund. “We think the quality of the construction is not as good as it has to be,” Vatbaronian told RFE/RL.
The complaints were echoed by Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian. “We have problems related to the quality of the work,” Ghukasian told the board. “We believe the fund must oversee things more strictly.”
(Photolur photo: Mark Geragos)