Hundreds of people attended a church service in Gyumri on Monday to pay their respects to Kirk Kerkorian, the Armenian-American billionaire who has built thousands of homes in Armenia’s second largest city ravaged by a 1988 earthquake.
Kerkorian, who died one week ago at the age of 98, financed over $230 million in infrastructure projects that were implemented in his ancestral homeland in the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A considerable part of that assistance was spent on the reconstruction of Armenia’s northern regions devastated by the 1988 earthquake. Some 3,700 apartments and houses were constructed there in the early and mid-2000s.
Almost 2,500 of those homes were built in Gyumri. Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation also repaired some of the city’s streets and renovated its main theater.
Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanian announced that one of those streets will be named after the California-born financier. “We have to express our gratitude to someone who did a lot for us,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“We are paying tribute to a great man,” said Felix Tsolakian, the governor of Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province, of which Gyumri is the capital.
The two officials spoke after attending a requiem service for Kerkorian that was held in the city’s Church Of Saint Mary. Archbishop Mikael Ajapahian, head of the regional diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, delivered a sermon at the end of the service, lavishing praise on Kerkorian and saying that his philanthropy should serve as an example for Armenia’s businesspeople.
“As Kirk Kerkorian once said, there are rich people and there are poor people with lots of money,” said Ajapahian. “This an evangelical principle.
“He wasn’t close to the church but he was committed to Christian principles. He led a very modest life.”
“Armenia’s rich people have a lot to learn from this man,” added the popular clergyman.
President Serzh Sarkisian and his predecessor Robert Kocharian, who oversaw the implementation of the Lincy projects while in power, also paid tribute to Kerkorian when they issued statements last week expressing their condolences on his death. Kocharian bestowed Armenia’s highest state award, the title of National Hero, on Kerkorian in 2005.