Last week, articles appearing in various Lebanese press outlets, in several languages, reported that the historic Bird’s Nest (Թռչնոց բոյն) Orphanage was being sold to make room for a beach-front development.
One of the last vestiges of the Armenian genocide, the Bird’s Nest facility, which was run by the efforts of Near East Relief and founded by Danish missionary Maria Jacobson, was a refuge for orphans who survived the genocide and today continues to operate as a safe haven for underprivileged children under the auspices of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia,
The Board of Directors of Bird’s Nest issued an announcement on Sunday, July 5, 2015 refuting those claims, with its executive director Seta Khedeshian, in an interview with CiliciaTV, also criticizing the press for irresponsible reporting that has created furor in the community, as well as on social media.
The focus of the controversy is a beach front portion of the Bird’s Nest property that has not been is use for decades. Given the rising costs of maintaining the facility, the board has leased that portion of the property, which will be developed by the lessee. After the completion of the lease, the ownership of that developed property is slated to revert to the Catholicosate.
Currently, an old building on the soon-to-be-leased portion of the property, which was a dining hall, is now being used as a church. That building, which is in poor condition, will be demolished and a new Armenian church will be constructed, through a $1 million pledge by the lessee on the perimeter of the current facility.
The development on this portion of the property will provide Bird’s Nest with much-needed income to continue to serve the children of the community.
“The income generating project currently under construction at the bottom half of the orphanage (under the supervision of the Lebanon’s directorate of antiquities) is to help with the maintenance of the Orphanage, the Museum, the Armenian Church and the community as a whole,” said the Bird’s Nest announcement.
“The project was carefully selected out of many proposals, because the maintenance of our space (30,000 square meters of land) needs special attention and funding. The financial income will serve to repair many of the old buildings within the orphanage that would cause a threat to the inhabitants as well as visitors. Furthermore, the land in question is not public, it is private and not located within the perimeters of the Byblos archeological site. All claims that this land is public and that the implementation of this project restricts the public access to the sea, are absolutely false and intended to create problems,” added the announcement.
Khedeshian clarified that no edifice within the facility will be demolished. In fact, she pointed to additions and renovations to the current facility, which will greatly enhance Bird’s Nest and make it a focal point for community service, as well as it historic significance.
One of those improvements is related to an abandoned cemetery on the site of the proposed development. The remains of those interred at the cemetery, which include some orphans of the genocide but mainly of Bird’s Nest staff members, will be exhumed and transferred closer to where founder Maria Jacobson—known as Mama—is interred, making it a focal point of the facility.
“The abandoned cemetery, which is currently in very bad shape and in an insecure location, is carefully planned to be relocated next to Miss Maria Jacobsen’s grave (The founder of the Orphanage) and the new Museum, in order to showcase the importance of the cemetery,” said the announcement.
A decade ago, the board of directors of the Bird’s Nest embarked on a project to build an Armenian Genocide orphans’ museum on the site of the orphanage to memorialize the surviving orphans and pay tribute to the founders of the orphanage. The museum will have its official opening next week, with an inauguration ceremony to be presided over by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.
“The museum design consists of artifacts, photos and a collective cemetery of the children and employees buried within the Bird’s Nest compound to portray to the world the daily life of the orphans,” explained the Bird’s Nest Board announcement.
Khedeshian also discussed the refurbishing of the dormitories, which is being sponsored by benefactor Aleco Bezikian. The completed dormitories will be named for the benefactor’s son, Zareh.
The Bird’s Nest board clarified in its announcement that recent press headlines “are deliberately false, manipulative and intentionally omitting facts intended to provoke unjustified emotions against both projects. Far from being under any threat, the historical Bird’s Nest orphanage is thriving and becoming more important.”
Khedeshian also echoed similar sentiments in her interview.