A longstanding dispute between an Armenian-American group and one of its former donors over the creation of an Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial in downtown Washington has taken yet another turn.
The Armenian Assembly of America was supposed to turn over a cluster of buildings in downtown Washington on May 23 to the donor who had originally bought them for the museum, but a new filing indicates the group has refused to leave one of the sites.
The Assembly has been battling with Minnesota-based philanthropist Gerard Cafesjian over five properties Cafesjian purchased nearly a decade ago to be used for the museum. The two sides had a falling out over plans, however, and Cafesjian triggered a clause in their agreement that he believed allowed him to take back all of the buildings.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sided with Cafesjian, and had ordered the Assembly to give back the buildings by May 23. Cafesjian’s attorney, Jones Day partner John Williams, said the keys were turned over at the time, but a new motion filed yesterday shows the Assembly is refusing to leave one of the buildings.
According to Cafesjian’s motion to enforce (PDF) the judgment filed yesterday, the Assembly is claiming that it has a right to stay in one of the buildings until its lease ends in 2015.
The problem, according to Cafesjian, is that the Assembly’s lease is with the nonprofit that was created to oversee the museum; Cafesjian had given the buildings to the museum nonprofit – also called the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial (AGM&M) – which in turn had leased space to the Assembly.
Both the Assembly and AGM&M are parties in the litigation, so Cafesjian is arguing that the judge’s order to turn over the buildings negates whatever lease the Assembly and the nonprofit had signed.
"I you don’t own [a property] into perpetuity, you can’t rent it into perpetuity. If you don’t have the right to continue to own it after a certain date, which they didn’t, they can’t rent it," Williams said.
The Assembly’s attorney, Eric Abraham of Hill Wallack in Princeton, N.J., could not immediately be reached for comment. The Assembly had also previously filed notice on May 25 that it is appealing Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling.