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February 20, 2009

Armenian Genocide Museum: Fighting on

A raging fight over construction of a proposed Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C. just keeps bleeding all parties.

McClatchy Newspapers has previously reported on this ongoing conflict between the museum's current promoters and retired businessman Gerard Cafesjian. Cafesjian and the museum's organizers with the Armenian Assembly of America have been hurling competing lawsuits at each other over the past several years, in what U.S. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly this week termed again a "very bitter and very unfortunate dispute."

On Thursday, Judge Kollar-Kotelly declined to dismiss several parts of one of the complaints.

Briefly: Cafesjian and a foundation he controls donated or pledged some $15 million toward the proposed museum. This included purchase of nearby land, around the corner of 14th and G streets in downtown Washington, D.C. The relationship began turning very sour in 2007, at which point the Armenian Assembly issued multiple scathing press releases including one that claimed Cafesjian "left the other trustees with serious problems...(that) left in tatters a project that the Armenian-American strongly endorsed and wants completed."

Cafesjian, who made his fortune through the legal powerhouse West Publications, contended the Armenian Assembly's actions defamed him. In her ruling Thursday, Judge Kollar-Kotelly declined the Armenian Assembly's bid to get those defamation counts dismissed. Noted the judge:

"Taking into account the entire text of the Press Releases, the Court finds that Cafesjian is portrayed as an individual who sought to personally gain from his involvement with Plaintiffs to the detriment of a museum and memorial meant to commemorate the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The Court cannot say, as a matter of law, that such statements are not susceptible of defamatory meaning."


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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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