Armenian Assembly Releases Statement on Genocide Museum Case

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Washington, DC – Earlier this month, a District of Columbia Court ruled that since the Museum project was not completed by the December 31, 2010 deadline, it triggered a reversionary clause within the grant agreement requiring the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial (AGMM) to transfer all of the properties of the Museum project to the Cafesjian Family Foundation (CFF).  As Cafesjian’s attorney, John B. Williams, upon the Judge’s order to transfer the properties, stated: “The properties have to be transferred to CFF in the next two weeks. That is what we have all been fighting for.”

Contrary to misinformation in a recent commentary piece reproduced in the Armenian press, the Armenian Genocide Museum litigation was not about the Assembly trying to take control of the properties. The Assembly had duly transferred the properties to AGMM, a separate nonprofit entity, as part of the grant agreement in 2003. Allegations that this litigation was about an attempt to exclude Cafesjian from decision-making powers of AGMM are also patently false.

This litigation was brought by Gerard Cafesjian in April of 2007 against the Armenian Assembly, and also the AGMM – after his prior attempt to dissolve AGMM in 2006.  It has been, without a doubt, a painful chapter for our community.

The Assembly did not seek litigation and preferred to resolve this matter amicably. On more than one occasion, the Assembly agreed to settlement terms only to have them rejected or changed by Cafesjian at the last minute.  The Assembly also took to heart Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s call in her January 2011 Memorandum of Opinion for the parties to come together to resolve their differences.  Unfortunately, the new lawsuit initiated by Cafesjian in January 2011 in Florida on issues that he did not prevail on in the District of Columbia, and the continued attacks against the Assembly in Cafesjian-owned media outlets, did not bode well for reconciliation.

That being said, the Assembly and AGMM have complied with the Judge’s orders, and filed appeals as a matter of right to protect the future of the museum, as the judge decided that Cafesjian had no obligation to use the properties for a museum.

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We share the same goal and desire with the community: we want an Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial to be built in our nation’s capital. The Armenian nation and the cause of genocide affirmation deserve nothing less.

After all, it was the extraordinary vision of Anoush Mathevosian and with the generosity of so many donors that AGMM was officially launched in 2003, and in so doing, sought to right the injustice of genocide and the consequences of its denial.

That is why the Assembly and AGMM forged ahead in 2006 after Cafesjian resigned his chairmanship.  After Cafesjian’s resignation, the AGMM developed plans that were, for the first time, approved by the relevant zoning and review boards in Washington, DC.  But for the litigation, the AGMM project would be fully underway.

We hope this project becomes a reality and we will continue to defend and protect the interests of the AGMM.  As such, there are several issues of concern to the Assembly and AGMM that warrant review on appeal, including among others, the following:

* The fact that the Judge, as well as Cafesjian, did not disclose, before or during trial, their preexisting economic and other ties, including their joint contribution of a glass sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This deprived the AGMM and the Armenian Assembly of a key piece of information in obtaining a fair trial that both the Judge and Cafesjian had a duty to disclose. The extent of the relationships still has not been fully disclosed.

* The fact that the Judge awarded the properties to CFF without any requirement from the Court that CFF build an Armenian Genocide Museum, and without regard to reimbursing Anoush Mathevosian’s $3.5 million founding contribution toward the purchase of the historic National Bank of Washington building, the close to $10 million in contributions by Hirair Hovnanian, as well as other donors to the project; or the appreciated value of the properties; or due consideration of the millions of dollars in property taxes paid by AGMM and the Armenian Assembly since 2000.  As a result, Cafesjian is poised to receive more than $20 million in windfall profits. At trial, testimony was provided that the value of the properties had more than doubled since acquisition and were estimated to be worth at least $40 million.

* The fact that Cafesjian did not exercise the legally required “utmost good faith” toward the AGMM or the Assembly by seeking the appreciated real estate and blocking development of the museum in advance of the December 31, 2010 deadline.

Although Cafesjian made claims of ownership with respect to the Armenian National Institute’s (ANI) artifacts, research library and genocide-related materials, they were rejected by the Court. ANI will not be impacted by the Court’s decision.  The Armenian National Institute was established in 1997 through a significant contribution by Hirair Hovnanian of over $1 million. ANI will remain an independent body with an independent Board of Directors.

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