YEREVAN -- An Armenian-American billionaire will provide $12 million to build and refurbish schools in Armenia, representatives of his foundation has said, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Kirk Kerkorian's U.S.-based Lincy Foundation has already spent $22 million to finance the first phase of a school infrastructure project in Armenia that it launched in 2007. Ten public schools in Yerevan and other parts of the country were reconstructed or built from scratch by the end of last year.
According to Hrayr Sarkisian, the head of the project implementation unit in Yerevan, the new funding from Kerkorian will be channeled into six schools in the northern Shirak and Lori regions.
"We started the work one month ago and...will not be able to finish them in time for the start of the new academic year [in September]," Sarkisian said at a news conference, adding thatthey will take between 12 and 16 months to complete.
Sarkisian said the Lincy Foundation had planned to set aside nearly twice as much for the second phase of the scheme but eventually cut the sum because of the global economic crisis. But he said the charity organization may still increase the amount.
Sarkisian estimated that about half of Armenia's 1,400 or so secondary schools are in need of repairs. Some of them are being renovated by the Armenian government.
Kerkorian, 93, is Armenia's largest diaspora donor. He has given at least $240 million through the Lincy Foundation since Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The bulk of this money has been allocated and spent since 2001 on various infrastructure projects, including the repair of 420 kilometers of major highways and the construction of 3,700 new apartments in Shirak and Lori, two regions devastated by a catastrophic earthquake that struck Armenia in 1988.
Kerkorian was ranked 41st on "Forbes" magazine's list of the world's wealthiest individuals before the global recession in 2008 with a net worth of some $16 billion.
He received Armenia's highest state award, the title of "national hero," during a rare visit to Yerevan in 2004. Then-Armenian President Robert Kocharian cited the reclusive tycoon's "exceptional services" to the country where his parents were born.