A Personal Tribute on the Passing of Kirk Kerkorian: an Extraordinary Man

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian


Since his passing on June 15, thousands of journalists have highlighted Kirk Kerkorian’s amazing business accomplishments and substantial charitable contributions. However, these journalists had never met this great man, as he rarely gave interviews to the media.

Having worked with Mr. Kerkorian for almost three decades as Senior Vice President of The Lincy Foundation and President of the United Armenian Fund, I would like to offer a personal tribute about this compassionate Armenian-American and wonderful human being.

I remember vividly the first time I met Mr. Kerkorian. It was at a Beverly Hills restaurant in the mid 1980’s during a small gathering of wealthy Armenians who supported Gov. George Deukmejian’s reelection. I was there as editor of The California Courier newspaper. When I walked over to introduce myself, Mr. Kerkorian recognized me right away and told me that he was a regular reader of my weekly columns. I was greatly surprised and flattered….

The next time I met Mr. Kerkorian was in his Beverly Hills office on November 1, 1989, eleven months after the devastating earthquake in Armenia. We discussed the possibility of forming a coalition of seven major Armenian-American organizations, including The Lincy Foundation, to airlift humanitarian aid to Armenia. Mr. Kerkorian offered to pay the full cost of transportation and went on to generously pledge to cover not only the cost of one airlift, but “all future airlifts as long as Armenia needed assistance.” Within a few days, the United Armenian Fund was born which successfully delivered over the next 25 years $700 million of relief supplies to Armenia and Artsakh, on board 158 airlifts and 2,250 sea containers.

In 1998, Mr. Kerkorian invited me to travel with him to Armenia, his first trip during which he pledged to Pres. Kocharian to allocate $100 million (raising it later to $242 million) to build or renovate tunnels, bridges and dozens of schools throughout Armenia and one in Artsakh; hundreds of miles of highways, roads and streets; 34 cultural institutions and museums; 3,700 apartments in the earthquake zone; and $20 million of loans to small businesses. These projects not only dramatically improved Armenia’s infrastructure, but also provided much needed employment to over 20,000 workers. Mr. Kerkorian asked me to supervise these projects, in my capacity as Senior Vice President of The Lincy Foundation.

Over the years, Mr. Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to Armenians worldwide, including $14 million to provide heating oil for Armenia’s freezing population during the harsh winter of 1993, $4.5 million in 2006 to all 28 Armenian schools in Lebanon, and millions of dollars to Hayastan All-Armenia Fund’s projects in Artsakh. It is estimated that from 1989 to 2011, The Lincy Foundation contributed over $1 billion, split equally between Armenian and non-Armenian charities.

In 2011, when The Lincy Foundation closed its doors, unfounded and false rumors began circulating about the supposed reasons for its closure. The fact is that Mr. Kerkorian had planned all along that at a certain advanced age he would no longer deal with the deluge of daily requests for funding from around the world and distribute the bulk of his wealth after his passing.

I would like to conclude by mentioning some of the likes and dislikes of this remarkable Armenian-American:

— Mr. Kerkorian detested the divisions among Armenians. It upset him to no end that Armenians could not get along with each other. He often said: “Why can’t they unite and march in the same direction?” He was pleased to see seven major Armenian-American organizations working together under the umbrella of the United Armenian Fund.

–He cared deeply about the destitute condition of the people in Armenia and was constantly worried about emigration. He sought to create jobs so Armenians won’t have to leave their homeland.

— He hated the limelight and never lent his name to any building or institution.

— He was extremely wealthy, yet lived very modestly and spoke gently and politely. He preferred that people address him as Kirk rather than Mr. Kerkorian.

Finally, no one had to prompt Kirk to donate money to worthy causes. He often volunteered to make large contributions without being asked.

The Armenian nation and the world owe him a great debt of gratitude.

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  1. Norin said:

    RIP Kirk, you were one of the last of our Giants. May the life you lived pave the way for new Armenian Giants to take up your mantle. We love you always…

  2. Garo Jeghelian said:

    one of most beautiful and shinest street in Yerevan should be renamed after him,so that new generations of Armenians know his name and about him

  3. State-Of-Emergency said:

    Great man but too bad he became into touch with his Armenian heritage way too late in life. Prior to 1988 he shunned anything associated with Armenia and Armenians based on a personal grudge. Same for Ronald Tutor of Tutot-Saliba Corp. He has deliberately chose to disown his heritage.

  4. State-Of-Emergency said:

    Great man but too bad he only came to acknowledge his Armenian heritage too late in life. Prior to 1988 he shunned anything associated with Armenia and Armenians based on a personal grudge. Same for Ronald N. Tutor of Tutot-Saliba Corp. He has deliberately chose to disown his heritage.

  5. Peter Musurlian said:

    Kirk, we have heard, was a man of few words. He accomplished more than words can express. He did more for Armenians than almost anyone on Earth, living or dead. Harut’s short column is the perfect length, and exudes the perfect tone, in explaining things to his readers that only Harut can communicate. It is truly the end of an era.

  6. Luapman said:

    Kirk was an amazing man. I have never met a person that had his qualities. He is still and always will be the “The Father of all Armenians” forever. Too bad his legacy wont be continued since he has no sons to continue his true Armenian LAST NAME, his genes, and his amazing history. The people around him were lucky. And they know it. They have NO idea who he was. They claim a lot of things, by telling stories about him. But none of them really knew him. All that is left now is “in print” about him. And we hope and pray his wishes will be realized accurately, faithfully and with honor. I am sure there will be surprises knowing Kirk!