Thursday, 20 September

Financial misappropriations at the Armenian College of Calcutta



Aghavni Yeghiazaryan
Edik Baghdasaryan

Hetq Online received a number of letters in response to our articles on the Armenian College of Calcutta. The authors are concerned about the current situation there, but stress that everything should be done in a way that would rule out the possibility of closing the educational center, which has been in operation since 1821. They are particularly concerned about the violence against the children, and the state of their physical and psychological health.

Sonya John, the head of the college, reacted to our articles as well. Earlier, we had sent her some questions inquiring about the situation at the College. But Sonya John did not respond to any of our questions or address any of the problems we described in the articles. We had also made inquiries about the college's expenditures and financial statements. We wanted to find out how much money is spent on each child annually, and how much money has been spent on renovations at the college over the last three years. We asked the last question since according to our information some amounts of money were written off under the pretext of renovation, but no reconstruction work was done. The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin refused to discuss the financial situation at the college. It is hard to say whether the Church controls the financial activity of the College or not. However we have at our disposal facts regarding wasting money at the college and will address them in further articles.

Echmiadzin responds

"The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin acknowledges that there have been problems, but these are common to similar institutions. It shouldn't be assumed that the institution is neglected. We are intently following the developments and have an active presence there. We are trying by all means to support and assist the children studying there and to assure their well-being and dignity," Deacon Vahram Melikyan, the director of the Mother See's information department, told us following the publication of our articles.

More than ten students who have returned to Armenia for summer vacation have malaria, which church representatives consider an ordinary disease given India 's climate. Only five students have applied to the Church for assistance. "We have officially announced that the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin is ready to take care of all their medical expenses. But not all of them have agreed. Several parents demanded that we give them the money and said they would not make any other claims. But the amount they demanded was too little for medical treatment; it would have been impossible to obtain treatment for such an amount," said Deacon Tigran, who coordinates college-related issues at the Holy See.

The children say they didn't receive proper medical care in Calcutta . The college doctor is an old woman who is unable to work anymore. Deacon Tigran assured us that this physician has already been dismissed and new doctor from Armenia is to take her place. Another improvement is that the Indian nurses in the College will be replaced by women chosen from among the parents. Deacon Tigran has had conversations with students, their parents, and the teachers from Armenia who work at the college. They have discussed the problems facing the college and are trying to find solutions. The fact that the children's letters used to be read by the college staff and often didn't reach the parents is a problem that they consider solved, since an Internet class has been established, and the children can communicate with their parents via e-mail. And soon an office dealing with issues related to the college will be opened in Yerevan , and parents will be able to use the Internet there free of charge. "We are planning to enable the parents to get their children's photographs, perhaps even video tapes once a year. We are also planning to make sure that several parents visit the college every year," Deacon Tigran explained. He also told us that corporal punishment is no longer employed, as the Church takes this issue very seriously and has strongly reprimanded the college staff.

When we asked about the fact that many of the students did not return to Calcutta after their vacation, Deacon Tigran said, "The children's return was postponed because a problem arose related to the translation of the stamps in their passports. There is no other problem and the children will return on August 10 th ."

However, it's a fact that many of the students will not continue their studies in Calcutta . The Church believes that the reason is that the social situation of their parents has improved.

It is not yet clear what kind of certificates the returning students will receive.

In India the secondary school education lasts for twelve years. The college is a part of the educational system of India , but children there go to school for ten years, although secondary school education in India (on the same system as British schools) lasts for twelve years. Representatives of the Mother See have promised to find out whether the college graduates will receive secondary or senior secondary diplomas.

Another problem at the college was acquiring textbooks for the Armenian subjects. This has been solved since the Ministry of Education and Science of Armenia has supplied the college with the books. From now on the teaching level of the Armenian subjects will correspond to that of Armenian schools.

Regarding charges that Sonya John, head of both the college and the Holy Nazareth Church Council, abuses her position and misappropriates donations from Indian Armenians, Father Vahram Melikyan told us, "The financial allocations she has made shouldn't be considered misappropriations; everything is carried out within the framework of the Church constitution. The college and the Church are separate structures. Allocations are decided by the Church Council. We periodically look into expenditures for renovation or other things. But we don't consider it appropriate to publish this information. Delegates from the Mother See visit the College periodically. In addition, India falls under the jurisdiction of the Primate of the Armenian Church of New Zealand and Australia . The situation there has never gotten out of control, and we are always informed as to what is going on there. The Catholicos sends his representatives there from time to time."

In relation to specific information on the allocation of large amounts of money to the Center of Cardiology of Calcutta and for the construction of the Armenian Embassy in New Delhi, Deacon Tigran said, "They transferred money to the Center of Cardiology as local residents. The Center will serve not only the Armenian community, but all local residents. The Indian government highly appreciated this donation. As far as the Embassy is concerned, it is worth mentioning that the Holy Nazareth Church Council decided to donate a building for the Armenian Embassy in New Delhi . The Church bought land in one of the best neighborhoods of New Delhi , built a three-storey house, and let the Embassy have it. The building remains Church property; it has been given to the Embassy for 99 years for the symbolic rent of one Rupee a year. This is a donation to the Republic of Armenia ."

"Never imagine that we have neglected the College. As close and dear to us as the Church is, this institution is as much or more so; it's the realization of many dreams. The Holy See promises that it will guide, support, and do everything possible to improve the functioning of the college to enable it to fulfill its mission," Father Vahram Melikyan assured us.



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