California lawmakers hope to raise awareness about Armenian genocide

California lawmakers hope to raise awareness about Armenian genocide

Scripps Howard News Service
May 27, 2004, Thursday

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — When Adolf Hitler was planning his 1939 invasion
of Poland and the extermination of Jews, he wasn’t worried about the
consequences of his brutality.

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
he asked.

Nearly a century later, the effort to raise awareness about the 1915
genocide of 1.5 million Armenians reached the California state Senate
on Wednesday. California is home to hundreds of thousands of people
with Armenian ancestry.

“I grew up knowing of that experience,” said Sen. Chuck Poochigian,
R-Fresno, whose great-grandparents were murdered in the Turkish-led

By a vote of 37-0, the Senate agreed with Poochigian to exempt from
taxes any insurance settlement payments to heirs and beneficiaries
of Armenian genocide victims.

The measure puts descendants of the Ottoman Empire-era atrocities
on par with those from the Holocaust, German labor camps and
Japanese-American internment camps. Those survivors and heirs also
don’t pay taxes on reparations or insurance payments.

In January, New York Life Insurance Co. reached a $20 million
settlement with heirs and beneficiaries of about 2,400 Armenian
genocide victims who took out policies between 1875 and 1915.

Armenian groups say policy documents were lost and destroyed during
the massacre. This year’s measure follows a 2000 bill by Poochigian
that extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits to be filed
against insurance carriers for unpaid claims.

The state expects a loss of $500,000 to $700,000 in tax revenue because
of the bill. But Poochigian said the bill is bigger than the modest
tax relief it provides.

“It’s a matter of simple justice that they get these payments,”
he said.

The bill heads to the Assembly, where it will receive strong –
and emotional – backing by Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, R-Stockton,
whose grandparents fled the region in 1915, eventually settling in
California in the 1950s.

“It’s important to keep the awareness of this high,” he said.

Turkey, a U.S. ally, rejects the genocide claim and maintains that
Armenians were killed in civil unrest during the collapse of the
Ottoman Empire.

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,