Battle over Armenian genocide museum in D.C. gets nasty
Posted 12 February 2009 - 12:15 PM
WASHINGTON — A nasty legal fight complicates plans for an Armenian genocide museum, and it shows no sign of abating.
On Friday, attorneys for the warring parties who once were close allies met again in a District of Columbia courtroom. There was no peace agreement, only the prospect of many more months of wrangling.
"The clients are very hostile to each other right now," attorney Arnold Rosenfeld advised a federal judge last year, a court transcript shows.
Rosenfeld represents the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial Inc. On a site two blocks from the White House, the non-profit organization proposes to build "the premier institution in the United States dedicated to educating American and international audiences about the Armenian Genocide."
The museum potentially has high appeal in regions with large Armenian-American populations. It's been discussed since the mid-1990s, and planners say they want the 35,000-square-foot facility open before 2011.
But a bad falling out with a major donor has been diverting time, energy and money. The one-time donor, retired millionaire businessman Gerard Cafesjian, is suing to reclaim his donations. Cafesjian, in turn, is being sued by museum organizers for allegedly trying to interfere with their work.
The competing lawsuits now resemble a bad divorce, where mutual rancor feeds on itself and prior intimacies become potential vulnerabilities.
"I must say, I'm very irritated," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly warned lawyers in August, a court transcript shows. "These cases are not a good use of judicial resources and, frankly, probably not of your client's resources, either."
On Thursday, in a ruling that keeps the lawsuits alive, Kollar-Kotelly nonetheless characterized them as "very unfortunate."
"If you're disputing about money, it's going to become bitter," noted Barlow Der Mugrdechian, coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program at California State University, Fresno. "It's not going to go away soon."
When completed, the museum will commemorate the events between 1915 and 1923, when by some estimates upward of 1.5 million Armenians died during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
Architects are already designing the project for the corner of 14th and G streets in downtown Washington. The city's Historic Preservation Review Board last year gave conceptual approval to use of the existing 83-year-old National Bank of Washington building.
The Armenian Assembly of America initiated the museum planning and in 2003 secured an agreement with Cafesjian and the Cafesjian Family Foundation. There then followed a series of complicated transactions.
The foundation granted and pledged roughly $15 million to help the Armenian Assembly buy the four-story National Bank of Washington building and four adjacent pieces of property. The donation included an agreement that if the museum isn't developed by Dec. 31, 2010, the Cafesjian foundation can get either its money or the property back.
Cafesjian is a World War II Navy veteran who made his fortune as an executive at West Publications, a Minnesota company that handles legal publications. He is described by his supporters as a well-meaning benefactor.
"Cafesjian has dedicated his largess to the Armenian people, Armenian nation, and Armenian causes," his attorneys stated in one legal filing.
But problems became apparent by October 2006, when a Cafesjian ally filed legal documents that allegedly clouded the title of the museum property. The museum organizers subsequently claimed Cafesjian was "actively taking steps to delay the development" in hopes of regaining the property for his own purposes.
Cafesjian filed his own lawsuit, claiming that the museum's board of directors deliberately shut him out from key planning decisions.
"Unfortunately, rather than becoming more cooperative, relations among trustees were increasingly divisive," Cafesjian's attorneys summed up in one legal filing.
The bitterness is apparent in voluminous legal filings.
Museum organizers make Cafesjian out to be a profit-seeking egotist, as they described his plans for a giant "Cafesjian Art Museum" next door to a "grandiose" genocide museum that would feature an enormous "Cafesjian Memorial."
Illustrating the prevailing mood, attorney Arnold Rosenfeld suggested that Cafesjian, who turned 84 last year, might manipulate a health excuse to avoid giving a deposition.
"Cafesjian's health issues have occurred with particular frequency at times when decisions regarding matters involving the (lawsuits) have been required or when his presence with regard to the actions has been important," Rosenfeld stated in a Jan. 30 affidavit.
Rosenfeld declined Friday to comment on the genocide museum lawsuits when approached outside the courtroom. He had earlier asked the judge to impose a gag rule on the two sides, noting that "all they do is insult each other," but he indicated Friday no formal gag rule was in place.
One of Cafesjian's attorneys, Nancy Berardinelli-Krantz, likewise declined to comment on the case. Representatives of the Armenian Assembly were traveling Friday and could not be reached.
In coming weeks, the various lawyers and representatives will be meeting again in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Florida and elsewhere for a series of pretrial depositions, setting the stage for their future jousting.
Posted 17 July 2014 - 09:33 AM
BY MICHAEL DOYLE
McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 17, 2014
Read more here: http://www.mcclatchy...l#storylink=cpy
WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court may have ended, once and for all, an extraordinarily protracted legal fight over a proposed Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial.
In a 37-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld a 2011 trial judge’s order awarding the property intended for the museum to the Cafesjian Family Foundation.
The three-judge panel’s decision rejected competing claims by the Armenian Assembly of America, which had sought a new trial. Most poignantly, though, the appeals court voiced dismay over what it called the “morass of litigation” that has entangled museum plans.
“More than seven years and millions of dollars in legal fees later, much of the parties’ work to achieve their dream of a museum appears to have been for naught, which is regrettable,” Judge Robert L. Wilkins wrote. “Whatever happens next, hopefully our decision today can at least serve as the last word on this dispute’s protracted journey through the courts.”
Hirair Hovnanian, chairman of the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial, said in a statement following release of the ruling Tuesday that “we hope the Cafesjian heirs keep the promise Gerry (Cafesjian) made to the courts, which was to use this property to build a museum."
At one time, the late Cafesjian Family Foundation founder Gerald Cafesjian was a benefactor of the Armenian Assembly. Together, they planned the museum and memorial marking the period from 1915 to 1923, when by some estimates upward of 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
In downtown Washington, project supporters bought a four-story National Bank of Washington building in 2000. Cafesjian provided funding and bought adjacent properties, with a clause that the properties would revert to his control if the project wasn’t finished by Dec. 31, 2010.
Cafesjian and the Armenian Assembly subsequently had a falling out, leading to the seemingly endless court battles over control of the property.
“With the benefit of hindsight, (the Armenian Assembly) may now think this deal improvident, but no sense of buyer’s remorse can empower us to rewrite the plain terms of the contract to which they agreed,” Wilkins wrote.
Posted 22 July 2014 - 10:21 AM
Now that the Lawsuits are Settled,
Let's Build the Genocide Memorial
By Harut Sassounian
On July 15, a Federal Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's 2011
decision, ordering the return to the Cafesjian Family Foundation (CFF)
the properties intended for the construction of an Armenian Genocide
Museum and Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Here is how Appeals Court Judges Garland, Wilkins, and Ginsburg
summarized the series of lawsuits and counter-suits filed by the
contending parties in the past seven years:
Armenian Assembly of America officials, including Hirair Hovnanian and
Gerard Cafesjian, `secured sizeable funding contributions, and formed
a nonprofit corporation, the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial
(AGM&M). They also agreed on and purchased a historic building for the
museum's site, just a few blocks from the White House. But as the
years wore on, they were unable to agree on much else. Progress
staggered. Tensions mounted. Little true headway was made. Eventually,
one of the project's principal founders and benefactors, the late
Gerard Cafesjian, chose to part ways with the group and resigned his
post as President of AGM&M. The split was far from amicable. And so
began a chain of events culminating in this tangle of
litigation. After several years of legal wrangling, the parties'
claims ultimately proceeded to a bench trial before the District
Court. Save for a single cause of action, all of the claims were found
unproven. Post-trial proceedings ensued on a multi
tude of issues, and, after many of the District Court's decisions
were appealed on a piecemeal basis, the assorted cases on appeal were
consolidated and presented to us for resolution.'
In the last page of their ruling, the Appeals Court Judges voiced
their frustration and dismay at the wasteful series of lawsuits. In
utter exasperation, they wrote:
`This legal saga has been long-lived. What began as a single lawsuit
to collect on an unpaid promissory note quickly escalated into a
morass of litigation. More than seven years and millions of dollars in
legal fees later, much of the parties' work to achieve their dream of
a museum appears to have been for naught, which is
regrettable. Whatever happens next, hopefully our decision today can
at least serve as the last word on this dispute's protracted journey
through the courts.'
I received scores of e-mails from many readers last week deploring the
fact that two prominent Armenian organizations wasted millions of
dollars in suing each other instead of settling their dispute out of
court and building a Genocide Museum, scheduled for completion long
before the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Unfortunately, the
inauguration of the Museum, located just two blocks from the White
House, may not take place at all!
It is deeply regrettable that both sides had rejected all offers by
third parties to mediate their dispute. The millions of dollars spent
on litigation would have helped fund the Genocide Museum. This is yet
another sorrowful example of Armenians acting against their own
A miracle could still happen! Even though Mr. Cafesjian passed away
last September, he had repeatedly declared that it was his fervent
desire to build a Genocide Museum and Memorial in the nation's
Capital. Armenians worldwide ardently wish that his heirs and CFF
trustees honor Mr. Cafesjian's commitment to this revered project and
bring his undying dream to fruition.
Armenia's leaders, heads of Diaspora organizations, and community
members should notify CFF trustees that they are fully ready and
prepared to provide all possible support to make Mr. Cafesjian's dream
a reality. This museum shall be a lasting tribute to Gerard Cafesjian
who donated tens of millions of dollars for humanitarian projects in
Armenia and the United States.
Now that this acrimonious lawsuit is behind us, it is high time for
the Armenian American community, with the consent of CFF trustees, to
come together and form a pan-Armenian committee, including the
Armenian Assembly, to begin planning the building of this important
landmark in Washington, D.C.
The Genocide Museum would be a lasting reminder to millions of
visitors not only of the terrible tragedy that befell Armenians in
1915, but more importantly, the story of their indomitable spirit to
survive and thrive. The Museum, therefore, could more properly be
called, `Memorial to Armenian Survival from Genocide.'
Should CFF trustees and the Armenian-American community share this
miraculous vision, the groundbreaking ceremony could be held on the
future site of the Armenian Memorial on April 24, 2015!
Posted 20 October 2017 - 09:33 AM
GREAT NECK, N.Y. — Sometimes fairy tales don’t come true. The story of Anoush Mathevosian and the Armenian Genocide museum in Washington, DC is one such case.
Anoush’s grandfather was killed in the Genocide, and her father deported to Persia, where he grew up in an orphanage. Anoush was born in Iran in 1926. She and her sister worked hard after coming to the United States, and eventually did well for themselves financially, but she remained troubled by the effects of the Genocide on her family. She said, “Even today I remember that and I suffer for that…When I was 4 or 5 years of age, I would see my father would read papers with tearful eyes. I would ask my mother, ‘why is he crying?’ My mother would say, ‘I can’t explain to you — you are too young, but when you grow older I will explain.’”
She wanted to do something about it. Mathevosian said, “So I decided from early on that I have to find some means for building an Armenian Genocide museum somewhere. It happened that I trusted the Armenian Assembly [of America] and I talked to them. I said I have a small amount of money and I want to raise funds to build an Armenian Genocide museum.” She made a pledge of $3 million in 1996, inspired by Armenian Assembly cofounder and longtime chairman of its board of trustees Hirair Hovnanian. Hovnanian had donated approximately $1.6 million in April 1996 to establish the Armenian National Institute.
Then, Anoush said, “From 1996 to 2000, I was going to Washington DC every month, sometimes twice a month, in search of the proper building.” By late 1999, the Assembly had identified the National Bank of Washington as a possible museum site. It was in the vicinity of the White House. When she saw it in 2000, Anoush recalled, “I was very impressed. I said I have a small amount I will bring to you, and I expect you to raise funds. But it did not happen that way.”
She increased her pledge to 3.5 million dollars to buy this property, the cost of which was 7.25 million dollars, but did not have the funds right away. The remaining money, along with a temporary loan for Mathevosian’s share, was provided by Gerald L. Cafesjian and his foundation. Cafesjian independently had become interested in a memorial to the Genocide, and joined the Assembly as a trustee in 1998.
After the closing, on February 28, 2000, Anoush Mathevosian wrote a letter to the Assembly restating the purpose of her pledge, which, she wrote “is to foster the development of an Armenian Genocide Museum.” She added, “To be certain that future generations remain true to the intent of our donations, it should be clear that no changes will be made to the purpose and usage of the Museum; that no mortgages are taken against the property and that the Museum’s perpetuation is not jeopardized as such or encumbered in any way; and that there will be no subsequent changes to the name of the museum.” She concluded, “I am making this donation in memory of my parents and would like the Armenian Genocide Museum to be dedicated likewise.”
Trusting Hovnanian and the Assembly, Mathevosian did not initially get any legally binding agreement in writing concerning her donation. This was the finding of the US District Court for the District of Columbia on January 26, 2011 (Memorandum Opinion, Civil Action Nos. 07-1259, 08-255, 08-1254 (CKK)).
Meanwhile, to create the museum, a new body, called the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial, Inc. (AGMM), was formed in October 2003 with Anoush as one of the four trustees. As part of its creation, a transfer agreement required all assets connected to the future museum to be transferred by the Assembly to AGMM, and a grant agreement was signed on November 1, 2003 by Cafesjian, Hovnanian and Peter Vosbikian (then chairman of the Assembly’s board of directors). It insured Mathevosian had at least one vote on the new AGMM board of directors. However, the grant agreement also included a reversion clause added by Cafesjian. It stated that the bank, with 4 adjacent properties obtained and donated by Cafesjian by 2003 and held by AGMM for the museum, would be given to the Cafesjian Family Foundation (CFF) if the museum had not been built by December 31, 2010. This was to become the legal means for the museum property to be diverted from its initial purported purpose.
She endured serious health difficulties from 2003 to 2005, including a stroke, heart attack, and a collapsed lung, and therefore she was unable to directly participate in AGMM board meetings. She did appoint a representative.
Ostensibly, increasingly bitter disputes between the Armenian Assembly led by Hovnanian, and Cafesjian and CFF, hindered collaborative work in AGMM toward the creation of a museum, until the parties ended up in a whirlwind of suits and countersuits. This and lack of finances meant no museum was created by the December 31, 2010 deadline, so that Cafesjian and CFF legally were able to regain control of the properties.
There is quite a bit of speculation on the causes of this situation, starting from personality differences and different approaches to the scale and contents of the museum, and even extending so far as claims that interested outside parties (i.e. Turkey and the US government) worked to make the museum fail. There is no formal evidence publicly presented concerning the latter.
An Assembly representative declared for the record the following: “Cafesjian saw the price of the real estate went up a lot. He moved from efforts to complete the museum to efforts to stall completion, so that the reversionary interest would kick in. After his death, the properties were sold for an enormous profit.” Several attempts by the Mirror to contact the Cafesjian Family Foundation via email and telephone about the museum were unsuccessful.
Whatever the causes, the result was clear. Cafesjian and CFF legally won the right to sell the bank and adjacent properties, and indeed they sold the bank and three of the adjacent parcels for $57 million on April 4, 2017, thus making it impossible to use the site for a museum. In her January 26, 2011 Memorandum Opinion, District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said, “While the Court hopes that the Properties can be used for that purpose [an Armenian Genocide museum], the Court recognizes that CFF is not legally obligated to use the Properties to build a museum…”
US Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit Judge Wilkins in July 2014, after affirming the District Court’s decision, concluded, “More than seven years and millions of dollars of legal fees later, much of the parties’ work to achieve their dream of a museum appears to have been for naught, which is regrettable.” The Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the District Court wrongfully hid the joint donation of a Stanislav Libensky glass art piece to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the judge and Cafesjian instead of the judge recusing herself for conflict of interest. Mathevosian declared that this is indication of corruption.
The Cafesjian heirs and CFF have not issued any statement since the sale of the bank and adjacent properties concerning the use of the profit. There appears to be no indication that they will pursue the cause of building a Genocide museum with the profits from property initially purchased for that purpose.
The Armenian Assembly (armenian-assembly.org) declares that it is still pursuing that goal, despite the setbacks of the lawsuits and large legal expenditures against Cafesjian. The Assembly, with the Armenian National Institute and AGMM, has created an online museum, and according to a spokesman, “is searching for real estate now and actively intends to create a museum.” Furthermore, Hirair Hovnanian and his family foundation have the resources to one day fund such a museum.
Anoush Mathevosian spent all of her money on Armenian causes. In 1997, she funded Camp Siranoush in Armenia for children whose parents died in the Karabakh war. In 2002, she built the Mathevosian School in Vanadzor. She started the Mathevosian Scholarship through the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), and has supported FAR in many ways, as in Gyumri. She also donated to the Armenian-American Cultural Association and its project in Armenia, the Armenian American Wellness Center. She said, “I neglected myself but got the pleasure of helping people.”
Thus, at her advanced age, she has no money left to directly donate for her dream of a museum, which at the moment is far from realization. Theoretically, she still is entitled to sue the Cafesjian Foundation in court for legal redress for her share paid to purchase the bank property, but either a donor would have to support such a suit, or a law firm would have to do it pro bono. She said, “I want to make sure that the Genocide not be forgotten.” If a lawyer sues on her behalf, she promises to give all the proceeds to build a museum. However, so far, no suitable lawyer has offered his services.
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users