YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s leading oligarchs have all but stopped funding a pan-Armenian charity that has been implementing large-scale infrastructure projects in Nagorno-Karabakh, it emerged on Wednesday.
The Hayastan All-Armenian Fund said only two Yerevan-based entrepreneurs have made donations exceeding $100,000 this year. One of them, Samvel Aleksanian, contributed $200,000 to its 2009 fund-raising campaign that will mainly benefit the war-ravaged Karabakh town of Shushi.
The year-long campaign attracted almost $16 million in contributions and donation pledges from Armenians around the world. Roughly $5.3 million of that was donated by Russian-Armenian businessmen during a recent fundraising gala in Moscow attended by President Serzh Sarkisian.
Armenia Fund collected $4 million and $1.7 million in Europe and Armenia and Karabakh respectively. The rest of the sum was raised among Armenian Americans during its annual telethon broadcast from Los Angeles on November 26-27.
Armenia Fund officials said the 2009 campaign netted no donations from wealthy Armenian tycoons such as Gagik Tsarukian, Hrant Vartanian and President Sarkisian’s brother Aleksandr. Tsarukian donated $2 million to the fund last year.
Barsegh Beglarian, another tycoon who owns Armenia’s largest fuel-importing company, gave only 15 million drams ($39,000) in 2009. The sum paled in comparison with the contributions of several ethnic Armenian businessmen based in Moscow. One of them, Samvel Karapetian, contributed $1 million to the Shushi reconstruction program.
The Karabakh-born Aleksandr Sarkisian has also refrained from supporting the ongoing construction of a heart clinic in the southeastern Armenian town of Goris financed by Hayastan. The controversial businessman, who has allegedly invested millions of dollars in real estate in California and Britain, represents Goris and surrounding areas in Armenia’s parliament.
Incidentally, Armenia Fund has received a $100,000 donation to the hospital from Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a fact emphasized by the fund’s executive director, Ara Vartanian. “We still lack money to finish the project,” Vartanian told a news conference.
Armenia Fund has also failed to attract any donations this year from prominent Armenian-American philanthropists such as Kirk Kerkorian, Louise Manoogian-Simone and Hirair Hovnanian who financed a large part of its charitable activities in the past. Vartanian insisted that the reason for that is purely economic.
“Those two benefactors have not given donations for the past two years,” he said. “The explanation given by them during our meetings was very simple: the economic crisis. So this is not a question of trust.”
According to Vartanian, the Armenian president’s and prime minister’s offices donated roughly $8,000 each during this year’s fundraising. In addition, he said, former President Robert Kocharian gave his one-month state salary of 320,000 drams to Hayastan. “When Robert Kocharian was president, he did the same thing,” added Vartanian.
He also said that the fund received no money from Kocharian’s predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian.