“Mr. Kerkorian was the type of person who would have a $10 meal and give the waiter a $100 tip,” - Jay Rakow, former MGM legal executive who ran Kerkorian's philanthropic organization, the Lincy Foundation.
Mr. Kerkor Kerkorian, the American-Armenian billionaire investor, who died last Monday night at his Beverly Hills home at the age of 98, was ahead of the pack in the way that he approached philanthropy. He unassumingly gave hundreds of millions to Armenian charities both in the Diaspora and Armenia and would ultimately give away $1 billion to various global charities through his philanthropic organization - the Lincy Foundation, continuing the tradition of previous Armenian philanthropic legends like Calouste Gulbenkian.
Throughout the last century, it is the generosity of such donors that extended the ability of the Armenian nation to address the big, timely issues shaping our world.
Previously another form of charity: Citizen Philanthropy, was invented by the Near East foundation after the Armenian Genocide when it raised millions of dollars from the US public to assist Genocide survivors ( see our previous blog post on Near East Relief ). This tradition of philanthropy (love of humankind) was continued by many like the founding leaders of the AGBU, the Gulbenkian Foundation and later on by many family foundations in the Diaspora like the Cafesjian , Jinishian and Karageuzian Commemorative Corporation (KCC) [too many notable ones to mention them all here]. Over time, family foundation played a big role both in the Diaspora and in the last 20 years in Armenia (IDeA, Simonian Foundation, ATP, etc.)
In the last 5 years as the Syrian conflict raged on, tearing countless families apart, uprooting entire communities and scattering millions within Syria and driving more than 4 million people into surrounding countries, Armenian foundations rose to the challenge again.
In this context, The Karageuzian Foundation's board needs to be praised for its proactive humanitarian intervention to assist vulnerable Syrian Armenians. Its field staff of social workers has delivered value beyond passive donor charity. And unconditionally, to all Armenian and non-Armenian Syrian refugees. Of course others have assisted as well, but not as continuously, not with the same focus and specially not in the same proportion as the KCC did in Syria and Lebanon in our view.
Yet, the failure by the global community to stand by Syrian civilians was recently described as a “stain on the conscience of the international community,” in a recent report by a group of NGOs including OXFAM and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Mobilizing resources to address the Syrian refugee crisis has not been easy as international appeals for aid for refugees have typically only been half-funded. Now, with 12 million people displaced inside Syria and another four million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, it is indeed a crisis unparalleled since WW2.
In the Armenian context as well, the size of the humanitarian intervention has been way smaller compared to the actual needs of Syrian Armenian. Whatever the reasoning of some Diasporan Armenian organizations and to some extent the Government of Armenia, we view this "fatigue" & passivity as unacceptable in the face of such humanitarian crisis. We've frankly been shocked at how distracted Armenian religious leaders have been with commemorations and "construction projects" while the humanitarian situation has actually worsened. Where are the collection tins for Syria in every Armenian church today ? How many clergymen are consoling Syrian refugees in the field ? We also don't understand how little some Armenian benevolent organizations have collectively contributed to this cause as a % of their annual budgets. It has been 5 long bloody years! Why the numbness towards the crisis ? Why have we failed to grasp the magnitude of the suffering ? No sitting Armenian church or civic leader has had anything bigger happen on his/her watch since a generation !
However, in 2015, empowered by social media, global Armenians have an option to reach out, support and discuss their giving efforts with their immediate networks. Citizen Philanthropists don't necessarily need to work with third party organizations and outsource "doing good" to larger organizations. For the social media empowered donor, transparency and seeing direct impact is a priority.
In 2015, We can All be Citizen Philanthropists having learned from the generosity and humility of the likes of Mr. Kerkorian. While we genuinely hope that religious & benevolent institutions can find empathy towards the victims of the Syrian crisis again, we have bigger hopes from emerging Armenian digital Citizen Philanthropist. Enabled by social media and crowd funding technologies, these can make a huge impact today.
The Armenian Diaspora, which has survived and prospered globally in the last century, can do significantly more than what's currently being done. Syrian Armenians who have been forced to leave their homes should not suffer as urban refugees in foreign lands. They should be given a humane choice to take refuge and offered affordable housing in host countries like Armenia. They cannot just be left "for each to care for themselves."
The NRC, has recently reported that the housing situation for Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries, is so bad that some Syrians are being forced to return home to rubble and crossfire in Syria because there is no housing for many of them. The Armenian Redwood Project (along with its partners Oxfam, UNHCR and SARF) has been focusing on the housing problem & with its #RootsForRefugees campaign is assisting refugees in Armenia with affordable housing.
We can still create hope, We can help, and We need funding. If you're asking yourself what YOU can do to help those seeking refuge, WATCH this video and contribute by going to igg.me/at/rootsforrefugees. We have 14 days left to make a difference in the lives of these refugee families. I hope you will consider joining us in supporting #RootsForRefugees campaign by July 4th.
"Every so often in life, you encounter someone who truly is larger than life. Less frequent are the moments you are touched by a larger-than-life presence who is not, in fact, present" was the beginning of an article on Mr. Kerkorian by the Las Vegas Sun.
Mr. Kerkorian, an unassuming man who never finished the eighth grade made the impossible possible for many causes, including Armenians. With his kindness, his legacy touched us all.