Holy Land Loss!

St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City is the first cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church to be constructed in North America. (Photo: Gomezryan)

It seems there is chatter about, or perhaps it is serious consideration of, selling the property owned by the Armenian Diocese (Eastern U.S.) on which its St. Vartan Cathedral sits, just as that structure’s 50th anniversary hits this year. It is prime property in mid-town Manhattan, and clearly worth millions (based on very rough measurements off a computer monitor and a New York Times estimate of $90 million for an acre of land in the area, I get a figure of $75 million for the parcel in question).

I happened upon this issue through two letters to the editor published by the Armenian Mirror Spectator. It’s not clear to me as of this writing whether it is the land itself or just the air rights above it that are up for sale. The two letters I reference render this unclear to me. Perhaps it is both.

Regardless, such a sale would be a crime against our communities and nation. Owning property such as this parcel does not come easy. There is a reference in one of the letters to insufficient attention paid to the property’s needs by the relevant leadership. But it can’t be too late to fix the situation. If nothing else, the crooked Catholicos under whose auspices this institution rests could cough up some of his ill-gotten gains, at least temporarily, to tide the cathedral over until a better, longer term solution can be found.

My thought is that such property should never be sold, keeping in mind Mark Twain’s famous advice–“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore” (yes, yes, I know, some miniscule acreage is being added through “reclamation” from the sea by dumping dirt and debris to extend coastlines, but that is insignificant). The type of arrangement that should be made is some sort of long term lease. Let whoever wants to build on it lease the land from the Diocese, for 50, 100, even 250 years. Just think of the income that would generate. The same could be done with air rights. And this could be done without even moving the cathedral, just build around it.

There is precedent in the Armenian community for smart property management. I have been told the story of AYF Camp Haiastan’s neighboring golf course wanting to buy part of the camp’s property. If I remember correctly, it would have been on the shore of Uncas Pond. Fortunately, the members of the sitting board were clever enough to instead buy some more property and lease it to the golf course, thus not only making money annually, but enlarging the community’s holdings. Those who know the story better should correct and expand upon my presentation of it. This is the kind of smarts the relevant diocesan bodies need.

Two more recent examples, both involving community outrage and activism are Mashdots Park in Yerevan and the Cilician Catholicosate Bird’s Nest property on the Mediterranean’s shore in Lebanon. Both were slated for development–commercial, crass, and totally inappropriate. Mashdots is much needed park space in the heart of Yerevan. Bird’s Nest is where, in the immediate aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, orphans were fed, housed, and raised to become contributing citizens, Armenians. This is the kind of outcry from our community that must be heard now.

The sad, but somewhat attenuated case of the Arshag Dikranian School in Hollywood is another example. The Tekeyan Cultural Association, much to many people’s chagrin, closed down the school. The matter of what to do with the property was taken up by the board. Scuttlebutt has it that some Armenians tried to get the property for a song, but the board followed the advice of an outside property appraiser and eventually sold it for a respectable sum, roughly $15 million as predicted.

Then there is the still unresolved example of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and its shutdown of the Melkonian School in Cyprus. Fortunately, its plan to sell off the property entrusted to it by two brothers who wanted to educate Armenian kids has so far been frustrated through legal and political action taken by the Armenian community in Cyprus. Who knows, perhaps this gem might yet be salvaged.

At a time when the Catholicosate of Cilicia is fighting through Turkey’s courts for the return of its seat in Sis (I refuse to use the Turkish state’s imposed, cultural genocide inducing, name of the site), this sort of loss would be really heartbreaking.

So, back to the Eastern U.S. Diocese and the St. Vartan parcel… C’mon, New York’s Armenians! Step up! Picket the place and the people proposing to pawn off the property. Let’s show them and the world that’s it’s not only Yerevan’s Armenians that have the heart and spirit to advocate good governance!

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

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  1. I just read an article – above – Holy Land Lost. And then was shocked and somewhat disgusted reading an ugly comment underneath it, by I have no idea whom, beginning with “Garen Yegbarian is a fat, bald guy…etc” supposedly criticizing said Garen Yegbarian. I don’t know the latter in person, but what has fat and bald got to do with the issue? C’mon already, constructive and ‘clean’ criticism is one thing, throwing insults on one’s physical appearance and thus attempting to belittle him is not pretty nor acceptable! …and, not identifying himself/herself, cowardly!

    • Hi Karina, believe it or not, that “comment” you are referring to is actually Garen’s author bio—he wrote it himself about himself! Hope this clears things up!

  2. what is the matter with our community? total nuts.
    as my father told me money is everything but also is nothing just papers.

  3. If the Church sells St. Vardan, I’ll stand outside of mass at St. Ghevond every Sunday and protest. Doing so would be a crime against the heritage of our people. A sacred building with such cultural meaning behind it should never even be considered for sale. Not only that, it would be hypocritical of us in the least because of our tendency to cry over destroyed churches in Western Armenia, as we formulate appraisals over churches we currently have control over.

  4. Very unwise move and shouldn’t be the decision of a few. The cathedral, the diocese, and all its properties belong to the whole community. Some among the community are entrusted to run/govern it – wisely and for the benefit of the whole community, the church, and future generations…Hence the remit of the people now “in charge” is to ensure proper governance and they definitely have no authority or privileges to sell it

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