By Shakeh Avoyan
The presidents of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh called on Thursday for a greater Diaspora contribution to a pan-Armenian charity that has spent about $80 million on various infrastructure and humanitarian projects since its inception twelve years ago.
Robert Kocharian and Arkady Ghukasian praised the work done by the All-Armenian Hayastan Fund but said the Diaspora communities should contribute more to one of the main channels of assistance to their historical homeland.
“Everyone is probably having a sense of pride and satisfaction,” Kocharian said after the start of a semi-annual meeting in Yerevan of Hayastan’s Diaspora-dominated board of trustees. “I hope that there is also another feeling that perhaps more could have been done.”
“The Armenians’ potential is much greater and the fund must effectively use it,” Ghukasian told RFE/RL in separate comments.
The board reviewed progress in the ongoing implementation of 19 big and small projects in Armenia and Karabakh. The biggest of them is the construction of a 170 kilometer “backbone” highway that will link the northern and southern parts of the Armenian-populated unrecognized republic. Work on the $25 million project began in 2000 and is due to be complete by half by the end of this year.
Hayastan’s executive director, former Karabakh Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian, told the meeting that the fund raised a total of $5.5 million in donations last year, up from $5.2 million reported in 2002. She said 2003 saw a record-high amount, $1.5 million, of contributions from Armenia and Karabakh.
The bulk of the money was raised last November in an annual 24-hour “telethon” broadcast from Los Angeles. The televised fund-raising was again dominated by a handful of big donations, with two prominent Armenian-American philanthropists giving $1 million each. One of them accused fellow Diasporans of being too tight-fisted.
The frustration was echoed on Thursday by Hirair Hovnanian, a prominent Armenian-American businessman and another major Hayastan donor. Hovnanian complained that a small number of big contributors like himself still carry the main burden of Hayastan’s activities.
“I think that in the beginning the idea was different from what we have now,” he told RFE/RL. “It was hoped that all Armenian families would pay small sums, but I think this hasn’t worked as the bulk of the money comes from those individuals who make big donations.”