By Anna Saghabalian
The head of a Diaspora-funded pan-Armenian charity implementing large-scale infrastructure projects in Nagorno-Karabakh rejected on Wednesday strong criticism of its activities voiced by the Karabakh leadership.
The self-proclaimed republic’s president, Arkady Ghukasian, and other senior officials in Stepanakert have publicly complained in recent months about the quality of an under-construction Karabakh highway financed by the All-Armenian Fund Hayastan, implicitly accusing its executive director, Naira Melkumian, of mismanagement.
“We disagree with such characterizations. I wonder what the authors of those statements are by training,” Melkumian said, questioning the competence of her detractors. “Economists have no right to pass judgment on the quality of construction,” she added.
Melkumian herself is a philologist by training. She worked as foreign minister in Ghukasian’s cabinet before moving to Yerevan and being appointed Hayastan’s chief executive in 2003.
The 170-kilometer road, which will link the northern and southern parts of Karabakh and is estimated to cost $25 million, is the single largest infrastructure project funded by Hayastan in Karabakh and Armenia proper during its 14-year existence. Work on it began in 2000 and is slated for completion next year.
Ghukasian publicly criticized the quality of the construction during a May meeting in Yerevan of Hayastan’s supervisory board, which is headed by Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian and comprises senior Armenian government officials as well as leaders of Diaspora communities around the world. “We believe the fund must oversee things more strictly,” he said.
The complaint was echoed by some Diaspora Armenian members of the board who cited a continuing lack of Diaspora trust in the efficiency of the charity and the integrity of its top executives.
But Melkumian ruled out the possibility of any financial irregularities at Hayastan, arguing that the fund is audited twice a year by Armenian and Western firms. She also said that only one section of the so-called “backbone highway” was found to have been poorly constructed in 2004 and that it has since been completely rebuilt.
“At the president’s instruction we sent relevant facts to the [Karabakh] prosecutor’s office,” Melkumian told reporters. “The prosecutor’s office is now examining them.”
(Photolur photo: Naira Melkumian.)