22 April 2005

Health hazard in the Armenian College in Calcutta

Introduction: Aghavni Yeghiazaryan and Edik Baghdasaryan, investigative
journalists, have published in the www.HETQ.am (30th March 2005) an article
on the health hazard that some 60 students from Armenia and other countries
are facing in the Armenian College in Calcutta, due to the indifference of
the supervisor(s).

We thank Max Galstaun from Calcutta who brought the article into our
attention. Actually www.azad-hye.com has run many articles on the condition
of the Armenian community in Calcutta (school, church, cemetary). Hardly
there are any positive signs in all these articles, but still we hope that
Etchmiadzin carries full investigation about what we are hearing for a long

Title of Article: "The Lives of Armenian Children are in Danger in Calcutta"

Forty children, all of them boys, are ill with hepatitis in the Armenian
College of Calcutta over the last few months. The cause of the epidemic is
still unclear. Boys and girls live in separate residential buildings at the
college. Though they lunch together in the girls' cafeteria, the boys have
their other meals in their own building, leading doctors to suspect that the
water supply in the boys' dormitory may be the source of the infection. The
water has not yet been tested.

Hetq has published a number of articles about the situation at the college
(See also: Financial Misappropriations at the Armenian College of Calcutta,
Armenian Children are Neglected in Calcutta in www.hetq.am). Six years ago,
the Supreme Court of Calcutta handed the Armenian Philanthropic College over
to the Catholicosate of All Armenians, and the Catholicos has the right to
run the school as he wishes. The church is responsible for the situation
there and the life and education of the children. In February, a three-man
delegation went to Calcutta to assess conditions at the college. One member
of the delegation, Father Ktrich Devejyan, declined to be interviewed,
saying that the Mother See must carry out reforms at the school immediately,
and that Deacon Tigran Baghumyan has been sent to Calcutta as an
administrator, upon the orders of the Catholicos, to initiate the reform.
Father Ktrich added that priests would be visiting the college from time to
time. There is in fact another priest from the Mother See, besides Deacon
Tigran, there at the moment.

According to a member of the Armenian community of Calcutta, all their
efforts to meet with the delegation from the Mother See were in vain,
because the director of the college, Sonya John, had hired people to prevent
Calcuttan Armenians from getting near the representatives of the Church.

We found out that the children who had contracted hepatitis had been treated
at a hospital for the poorer segment of society. One of the children, in a
letter to his mother, said that the hospital was dirty and looked like a
stable. We would like to remind our readers that Sonya John set aside a few
million dollars of Church funds to build a new hospital in Calcutta. That
hospital, however, is out of reach for the Armenian children there. Sonya
John had an explanation, saying it was too far from the school to take the
children to.

According to our sources, the Holy Nazareth Church provides the college with
$500,000 every year, more than enough fro the college to provide its 101
pupils with a normal standard of living and a decent education. However,
instead of, for example, establishing a computer classroom in the college,
they are said to carry out cosmetic renovation from time to time. The
children do not have computers to this day, and cannot correspond with their
families via e-mail. (They are not allowed to visit Internet clubs, either.)

We also found out that there are ninety-two staff members on the books at
the school. But the children who have not left the school say that they know
everyone who works there by name, and there are no more than twenty-five of
them. The financial supervision of the College is the responsibility of the
Holy Nazareth Church Council. The president of the council is, once again,
Sonya John, although she was admitted only a few years ago. "Sonya John
Sandukht Martirosyan is from the Shiraz region of Iran. She was a teacher at
another school in Calcutta. She seemed like a clever woman with a lot of
promise,” explained Father Sahak Sahakyan, who was the primate of the Indian
Armenian community from 1992 to 2000. “I proposed her candidature for
membership in the council. And that is how she entered the Council, although
we had to change a rule for that - according to the statute, women were not
allowed to be members of the Council. Her patriotism was revealed only in
1999, when they wanted to sell the College. She supported me, and the
College was left to the Armenians and given to the Church. But power and
money change a person. However, we should not be rash with her now,
everything should be done calmly, because our children are in her hands."

Nobody seems to worry about the fact that besides being a place to live, the
college is also an institution of learning, which should provide a good
education, along with decent living conditions. The Ministry of Education of
the Republic of Armenia seems completely indifferent to the education that
the sixty-two students who went there from its school system, and who will
return upon graduation, are receiving. Other than English, it doesn't appear
that the thirteen and fourteen-year-olds at the school have learned much of
anything. Many of them don't know their multiplication tables. Furthermore,
there is a twelve-year system of education in Armenia, whereas the college
provides only ten years of schooling, making it possible that the students
will return to Armenia without a valid secondary school diploma.

"All the money in Calcutta is not worth sacrificing the future of our
children there, “ said a priest who worked at the school a few years ago.
“If nothing changes, we must close the college as soon as possible, and
bring our children back home.”

Source: http://www.hetq.am/eng/society/0503-calcutta.html

By Aghavni Yeghiazaryan, Edik Baghdasaryan

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