President Serzh Sarkisian on Wednesday lavished praise on a Diaspora-funded pan-Armenian charity that has spent over $235 million on development projects in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh since its establishment 20 years ago.
Sarkisian stressed the importance of those projects as he presided over a regular meeting in Yerevan of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s Board of Trustees comprising top Armenian state officials, Catholicos Garegin II and prominent representatives of Armenian communities around the world.
“They have been so many and so diverse that we are only left to conclude that without the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund it is no longer possible to imagine the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh (Karabakh),” he said. “This is a jubilee that instills joy and confidence in us.”
The funds raised by Hayastan in the last two decades have been mainly used for building about 500 kilometers of roads, hundreds of apartments and houses and dozens of schools, kindergartens and healthcare centers. Karabakh has absorbed most of that money largely collected in annual telethons broadcast from Los Angeles.
Ara Vartanian, who was reappointed by the board as Hayastan’s executive director, said the charity will spend about $20 million this year. He singled out the planned construction of “community centers” in an unspecified number of Armenian and Karabakh villages. “We will build centers in villages that will house village administrations, medical rooms, auditoriums, libraries and computer rooms,” Vartanian told reporters.
Wealthy Diaspora Armenians have long financed a significant proportion of Hayastan’s activities. Kirk Kerkorian, a reclusive U.S. billionaire of Armenian descent, was a key donor in the 1990s. The fund has also received millions of dollars from Moscow-based Armenian tycoons in recent years. One of them, Samvel Karapetian, donated $15 million in 2008 alone.
“It’s always hard to raise funds because there are many benevolent organizations [in the Diaspora] implementing various programs,” Vartanian said, adding that Hayastan has been trying to earn Diaspora trust by operating with “utmost transparency.”
“Another problem is that a large part of Armenians living in other countries unfortunately remain Armenian only by name and do not want to be connected with their homeland in any way,” he complained.