The Hayastan Fund Annual Telethon: A Constructive Critique

A few thoughts may be in order on the occasion of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s 20th anniversary and its 15th annual telethon. The intent is not to intrude into the fund’s internal affairs, but to offer constructive criticism and suggestions that could help improve its humanitarian mission and public image.

In the absence of an elected structure representing Armenians worldwide, Hayastan Fund is the only pan-Armenian body that brings together, under a single umbrella, all major Armenian political, religious and community entities. The fund’s board of trustees is comprised of leaders of the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh, heads of large Diasporan Armenian organizations, and prominent benefactors. As such, the fund serves as a unique platform where all segments of the Armenian world can address their common concerns. In view of this globally singular role, the board may wish to consider expanding the organization’s functions beyond its philanthropic activities.

The most urgent Armenian issue at this moment is the tragic condition of Syrian-Armenians whose very survival is at stake, as their situation worsens on a daily basis. Hayastan Fund and its 25 affiliates worldwide should have acted much sooner by organizing an emergency telethon and donating all the proceeds to alleviate the dire needs of Syrian-Armenians, be they in Syria, Armenia, or elsewhere.

After much delay, the fund decided to allocate 10 percent of the amount it would collect from this year’s telethon to Syrian-Armenians. This small percentage, compared to the vast needs of that threatened community, disappointed many potential donors. Instead of assuming collective responsibility for this unwise decision and reversing it, the fund’s representatives engaged in unnecessary finger pointing. When complaints from the public grew louder, some of the fund’s affiliates grudgingly revised the 10 percent quota to an unspecified portion of the total amount raised, after setting aside the funds earmarked for other projects. Also, the fund allowed donors the option of designating 100 percent of their contributions to Syrian relief. Of course, it would have been preferable if Hayastan Fund had designated all donations to Syrian-Armenians, except those earmarked by donors for other projects.

The situation became more confusing when Bedros Terzian, the chairman of Armenia Fund in France, made a surprising announcement at the conclusion of the fund’s European phonethon (fundraising by telephone) on Nov. 18. In a euphoric mood, he promised to allocate a portion of the $1.8 million raised to reconstruct housing for Armenians in Aleppo after the war. Terzian, a distinguished corporate executive, may not have realized that Syrian-Armenians need food, medicine, and other basic necessities for survival right now, rather than after the war, at which time the Armenian community may have dwindled along with its housing needs!

Now that the telethon and phonethon are over, one can take note of some interesting numbers in the announced results. Amazingly, Armenians in Armenia and Artsakh contributed $2.5 million, whereas Armenian-Americans donated only $2.1 million ($1.5 million from the West Coast and $600,000 from the East Coast). The $21.4 million announced at the end of the telethon includes all of the amounts pledged or actually raised throughout the year at different fundraising events in over a dozen countries, such as the $12 million pledged by Armenian businessmen in Moscow on Nov. 8. Another surprising number is the substantial contribution of $600,000 received from India. Since there are only a handful of Armenians in that country, there must be an interesting explanation as to the source(s) of such a large sum!

To avoid further confusion regarding the disposition of the raised funds, Hayastan Fund’s Lebanon affiliate may consider allocating the entire proceeds of its Dec. 8 radiothon fundraiser to the thousands of Syrian-Armenians refugees. The displaced Syrian-Armenian families in Lebanon are in desperate need of financial assistance to pay for basic necessities, as well as their children’s schooling. Lebanese-Armenian schools, which are in dire financial need, are now additionally burdened with hundreds of Syrian-Armenian students whose parents cannot afford to pay tuition. Keeping its collected funds in Lebanon would enable Hayastan Fund to simultaneously help the Syrian-Armenian refugees, while ensuring the survival of Armenian educational institutions.

In the coming days, as Hayastan All Armenian Fund sums up the fundraising results of its worldwide affiliates, it should announce: (1) the final amount raised, (2) the breakdown of the amounts allocated to specific projects, and (3) its plans to extend immediate assistance to Syrian-Armenians.

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Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

15 Comments

  1. So, what was all that fuss about? Seems like the whole hysteric about the 10% was basically an attempt to re-route money donated by Russian Armenian “thugs” away from Artsakh… and let American Armenians spend their Turkey Day as they are entitled to – by watching Macy’s Parade, American Football, gluttony, arguments with relatives, and other noble ways of the “largest and most powerful Diaspora.”

    Pretty soon they will be throwing tantrums because they didn’t get Christmas presents from Foreign Minister Lavrov, who also happened to be a Russian Armenian…

  2. Parev Harut:

    I agree with you one hundred percent. You are a true and true Armenian, and I thank you for your compassion and kindness and your patriotism. I wish we have many Harut’s like you. I just don’t understand the logic of the Armenian representatives. They seem to have no compassion . They should know what it is like to be in a civil war and the devastations.. . I was born in Syria, and my heart is with those poor people, that are going through the atrocities.

  3. “Amazingly, Armenians in Armenia and Artsakh contributed $2.5 million”

    RoA Armenians remember with gratitude the assistance Syrian-Armenians provided them with during the 1988 Spitak Earthquake and subsequent war with Azerbaijan. Likewise, RoA Armenians opened the doors of their homes to Baku Armenian refugees. One family I know of allowed an Armenian family from Baku to stay in their home for 5 years. The Baku Armenian family is now well-off and both families are very close. Syrian-Armenians have received a similarly warm welcome from RoA residents. Perhaps the governmental authorities of Armenia are not entirely competent in their dealings, but we must remember that Armenia is a small state with limited resources. The degree to which they have assisted the Armenian communities in Syria can even be said to be satisfactory — especially when considering their constraints.

    Ah, how quickly the internal divisions within the Armenian community vanish when we are confronted with war or persecution.

  4. Yes, the condition in Syria is indeed tragic and all Armenians world wide should be concerned and engaged in doing whatever it takes to assist them. But it doesn’t surprise me one bit that our huge benevolent funds remain somewhat complacent. Who among us is unaware of the tragic circumstances of beautiful women and children in Armenia still living in abject poverty year in and year out. since independence? Who among us is unaware of the horror of living in old metal boxes where survivors of the earthquake and refugees from Baku still live. Yes the recent Syrian crisis is urgent but we Armenian’s can’t seem to get past our in-fighting for power and ego. Authorities recently reported that the “domik”families could be moved into more humane living conditions for a mere 7 million dollars. But these folks have become the forgotten ones and I pray that the same fate does not fall upon or brothers and sisters in Syria. Let’s get our priorities straightened out!

  5. Yes! Finally, the ordinary folks in the Diaspora are waking up and refusing to blindly send their hard earned dollars to the regime in Armenia. Even that 2.1 million should go down to zero. That is how you give a message to the Armenian government: if they keep failing to respect the Armenians abroad and the people in Armenia, we are going to give them the finger. Just as Kirk Krikorian’s did.

    Sure, they will have to rely on the money from the thugs in Russia, but how sustainable is that? Thugs helping thugs, how long will the common people in Armenia tolerate that.

    • There is a lot of misinformation in this post. First of all, the Telethon proceeds do not go to Armenia. They go to Artsakh to build civic centers in border villages this year. Previous years they went to bring water to Artsakh villages and, what is also important, divert it from Azeri Turk villages.

      Second, the money is managed by representatives from all Armenian communities including “the Diaspora.” So, if the allegations were true, the leadership of “the Diaspora” would be as much at fault as “the regime in Armenia.”

      I have a different explanation for the meager performance in the US. First, we should stop referring to American Armenians as “the Diaspora” – this is a clear case of delusions of grandeur. Armenians in Russia or any other place outside Armenia and Artsakh are representatives of diaspora too. In addition, “the Diaspora” has been failing to integrate first generation Armenian immigrants for many many years and loosing third, forth, etc. generations even faster so the total numbers of “the Diaspora” population they quote are fake.

      American Armenian diaspora is coming of age and disappearing. The organizations are senile, nepotistic and irrelevant. The economic crisis drove the majority of population into a position of not being able to donate to anybody. Like most of Americans, they’ve been donating borrowed money for too long.

      On the other hand, Russian Armenian “thugs” donate real GOODS and SERVICES they OWN. These resources are used to build infrastructure, industry and defense. You can’t do it on AmEx and Visa. Armenia and Artsakh need real metal, gas, equipment, expertise, etc. not fake pieces of paper borrowed from China.

    • Vahagn,

      What made you compose such a disrespectful post? How can you call our fellow Russian-Armenians, who have donated millions to Armenia and Artsakh for building schools and irrigation system, thugs? You make an impression as if Armenian government is going to steal that $21 million, which is not true. If you do not want to donate it is your business, but please do not label those patriotic Russian- Armenians thugs. Obviously they think about Armenia and are connected to their homeland more than you.

    • Armenian-Americans donating just 2.1 mln to the Fund had its effect: prime minister Tigran Sarkissian is expected to arrive to Boston to figure out the reason why Armenian-Americans have come up with such a ridiculous amount. But all the same, I think the RoA government got the message: either reforms or lack of financial support.

    • Sella,

      As it should have been clear from my post, I did not call all Russian Armenians thugs, certainly not the ordinary ones, only the olygarchs who are well known among Armenians for having accumulated their wealth through organized crime. I highly doubt the ordinary working Russian-Armenians donated all of the $12 million. Certainly my post was much more respectful than Voskanap’s post about Armenian-Americans. One of the ways that organized crime launders money is by “charitable donations,” which often result in low quality projects. These olygarchs do not care about Armenia, they care about their wealth and prolonging the rule of their fellow thugs in the “Republic of Armenia.” The sooner you realize it, the sooner we will be able to change the criminal system in Armenia and save our people from these thugs.

  6. May I remind you Voskanapat that for the long run,i.e. from the inception of this Fund some 15 yrs ago the A,merican Diaspora was the one in the front line,donating the big chunk of the Telethon collection monies..
    When later the Economic crunch hit the U.S. ,you are right people began to donate from their savings or even like you write from borrowed monies..
    Therefore what the Russian armenians have done -indeed plausible-but they are carrying on what was initiated by the North American Diaspora mainly.
    I always like to say the truth.Now , it is with lament that we from here cannot match the ex-soviet Russian armenians -our brothers-but we ARE GLAD to see them do so.
    Never set up one Armenian Community country agaisnt ea other…
    Thjat is exactly why this serfvant of the Armenian people has been advocating to have 5 permanent Dellgates for our 5 main Community cpoutries in Yerevan at the Diaspora Ministry.
    They first hadn are in contact with ea other and communicate with their centres in given community and indeed also get to know ea other ,each other Mentalities , objectives and try to come to a common denominator amongst ALL and ..of course the Homeland brothers /sisters…
    Now that I call real cooperation and Esprit de Corps…
    We lack THAT!!!!!

  7. The Armenian Americans have donated enormous amounts to Armenia and Artsakh in the past, especially right after the independence. Did they all of a sudden grow “senile” in 20-10 years? The Armenian youth in the U.S. have been VERY active in matters that concern the community and the nation. If they see something worth believing and fighting for, they will devote their lives to it. The problem is they see a pathetic state called “Republic of Armenia” ruled by thugs, and Artsakh is just part of it. And they are no longer willing to help the regime.

    Saying that the Russian-Armenian olygarchs donate the money they “OWN” is misleading. They donate part of the money they STOLE through the organized crime that’s smothering Armenia and Russia. And saying that the money goes “to build infrastructure in Artsakh” is misleading too. How much of it goes to the pockets of the olygarchs? They just throw crumbs at “infrastructure projects” to fool others.

    By the way, the economic downturn affected Russia and Armenia much harder than it did the U.S. And yet the Armenians in the U.S. contribute less than those in Armenia and Russia, so the downturn alone can’t be the explanation.

    It’s true that some Diasporans serve on the Fund’s board, but they may not have much control if the money is stolen by the corrupt officials on the ground. The local criminal bosses in Armenia have been known to fool the outsiders for decades. Having said that, I agree that those Diasporans who serve in the Fund should start holding the regime in Armenia strictly accountable. Better yet, they should support a regime change in Armenia to save the country and its people, who see no other option but to flee the “Republic.”

    • I think I found the missing money!!

      It turns out that The Diaspora is spending to much on suing each other…

      Remember the case with the Armenian Genocide Museum in Washington DC?
      One rich guy gave his favorite Armenian lobby group $10 million to buy buildings two blocks from the White House and open a museum. What did they do with the money? Bought buildings for their offices, started asking for more donations, paid some outrageous “consulting fees” to their friends and family and got sued by the donor after failing to fulfill his wishes for TEN+ years.

      Instead of dealing with the situation honestly, they filed a counter suit against the donor. After years of court proceedings making fools of themselves and earning several Clowns of DC annual awards they finally settled. The result is $4 million in legal fees… and no museum.

      I remember another similar case where several Armenian legal firms won a settlement on Armenian Genocide against a German Bank(?) and then sued each other for “misappropriating” the proceeds they said they would give to Armenian causes but turned out unable to account for…

      And these are the best of the best of The Diaspora! I wouldn’t trust them with walking my dog, let alone running a country.

    • And the oligarchs in Armenia have been doing such a better job ruling the country!

      It’s this kind of attitude that will destroy Armenia. When the Diaspora offers its enormous expertise and knowledge to develop Armenia, and the reply is “we are better than them.” The elite in Armenia can choose to ignore the Diaspora as much as it wants, but it’s the thousands of Armenians leaving the country who give the final grade.

      And call me Americanized, but I would much rather be sued than be beaten to death by some oligarch’s bodyguard.

      By the way, I think those libel lawsuits in Armenia are much more ridiculous than the one described in the post above. Oligarchs using the courts to suppress newspapers, over who dared to insult some thug. At least the lawsuit by those Diasporans is over something real–embezzlement.

      Lawsuits have existed in the U.S., including among Armenians, for a very long time. The Armenian-Americans did not stop sending money to Armenia just because they suddently started suing each other.

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