(CN) - A historic property in Washington, D.C., must be returned to its donor because of the failure to open an Armenian Genocide Museum there, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
Armenian Assembly of America joined several other organizations 20 years ago to create an Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial (AGM&M) in Washington D.C.
The genocide was carried out by the Ottoman government in modern Turkey against its Armenian citizens. Beginning in 1915, a genocidal policy of massacre, forced labor and death marches killed an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million people, and drove the Armenians out of their historic homeland in eastern Anatolia.
To make their museum a reality, the Armenian Assembly and others purchased a historic building, the National Bank of Washington building at 14th and G Streets, just blocks from the White House.
A benefactor, Gerard Cafesjian, also purchased the buildings adjacent to the Bank Building to expand the museum effort.
After these property purchases, however, the philanthropists made little progress toward developing the museum.
Eventually irreconcilable differences arose between major donor Cafesjian and one of the assembly's founders, Hirair Hovnanian.
This split entered the courts when both parties laid claim to the museum-related properties Cafesjian purchased, and the assembly accused Cafesjian of mismanaging the project.
The D.C. Circuit affirmed a ruling for Cafesjian on Tuesday, finding that the grant agreement provided Cafesjian the right to seek transfer of the properties granted for the museum's use because the museum's development foundered.
There is no support for the assembly's view that equity should not permit Cafesjian to benefit from AGM&M's failure to meet its deadline "because Cafesjian's actions were the very reason AGM&M could not develop the museum by the end of 2010," according to the ruling.
"As the District Court interpreted the evidence below, it was the 'lack of funding' that caused AGM&M to put the brakes on the museum project, 'and the record [did] not clearly show that any actions by Cafesjian ... caused AGM&M to lose donors,'" Judge Robert Wilkins wrote for the three-judge panel.
The grant agreement provided that, if the museum was not substantially completed by 2010, Cafesjian could seek either the return of the grant funds or the transfer of the property, without regard for the property's appreciation at the time of reversion.
"With the benefit of hindsight, appellants may now think this deal improvident, but no sense of buyer's remorse can empower us to rewrite the plain terms of the contract to which they agreed," Wilkins said.