A large part of the money was raised in a 12-hour live “telethon” that was broadcast from Los Angeles late on Thursday and early Friday. The sum also includes $5.3 million which Hayastan said was donated by Russian-Armenian businessmen during a recent fundraising gala in Moscow attended by President Serzh Sarkisian. Another $1.8 million was contributed by thousands of Armenians living in Europe who took part in a “phoneaton” held this month.
“The collected funds will be directed at the realization of a variety of social and economic infrastructure projects in the town of Shushi,” the pan-Armenian charity headed by Sarkisian said in a statement. “Through building new roads, schools, rehabilitating water mains and restoring apartment buildings, the Fund will launch the process of the revival of the historic Armenian town.”
“Parallel to these projects, the Fund will continue its rural development effort which reaches out to the villages of Armenia and Artsakh,” added the statement.
Armenia -- An 18th century fortress in Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh, undated
The strategically important town overlooking Stepanakert sustained heavy damage during the 1991-1994 with Azerbaijan and much of is still in ruins. The Karabakh government declared its reconstruction a top priority two years ago. The unrecognized republic’s prime minister, Ara Harutiunian, flew to Los Angeles to attend the annual fundraiser.
The event also featured a televised appeal by President Sarkisian who urged Armenians to “save nothing for Shushi.” He said that would disprove suggestions that his government’s conciliatory policy towards Turkey has split Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.
“We must prove to everyone that there is no rift between the homeland the Diaspora, that at this historic and turning moment we stand closer to each other and are contributing to our country’s progress with greater dedication,” said Sarkisian. “With this fundraising, we must also prove that Artsakh (Karabakh) is ours today and will be ours forever.”
In the event, Hayastan collected less than half of what it raised late last year. The fund put a brave face on the sharp fall, saying that the number of its individual contributors actually increased in 2009. “The participation of residents of Armenia was especially impressive with more than 20,000 people making their donations in the period leading to the annual Telethon,” it said.
“For the pan-Armenian fund, strengthening the army of contributors is more important,” Armen Ohanian, a spokesman for Hayastan, told RFE/RL. “In that sense, we can certainly register progress as the number of our contributors has drastically increased.”
Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), insisted that the total amount of donations fell primarily because of the global economic crisis, rather than many Diaspora Armenians’ discontent with the Turkish-Armenian agreements. “That crisis has hit the Armenians as well,” he said.
But Giro Manoyan, the Diaspora-born foreign policy spokesman for the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), insisted that the controversial agreements were a major factor behind the drop. He said Dashnaktsutyun urged the Diaspora Armenians to donate to Hayastan despite its strong criticism of the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. “But no matter how much you say that, I think this problem of the Armenia-Turkey protocols had a negative impact on people,” he told RFE/RL.
Manoyan also saw a lack of Diaspora trust in Hayastan and, in particular, its rural development projects in Armenia and Karabakh. He said they were more willing to finance those projects when the latter were overseen by former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. He said Oskanian, who is also a former member of the Diaspora, was always keen to let Hayastan donors monitor the use of their money.
“Ever since Vartan Oskanian was relieved of that responsibility [in 2008,] the work has in effect been done through the government, and that does not instill much trust [in the Diaspora] for reasons which I think are understandable,” added Manoyan.