‘Long, Emotional Battle’ Over for Local Descendant of Genocide

‘Long, Emotional Battle’ Over for Local Descendant of Genocide
La Cañada Valley Sun
August 5, 2004
By Jane Napier Neely

La Cañada resident Martin Marootian, principal plaintiff in a class
action suit against New York Life Insurance Company, says he’s tired
but pleased the case has been settled, forcing the insurance giant to
pay death benefits owed descendants of those killed by the Turkish
Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide.

The judgment was handed down on July 30 by federal court judge
Christina Snyder. Marootian will receive $250,000. About $11 million
will be set aside for potential claims by heirs of 2,400 policy
holders. Some $3 million will be spread out among nine Armenian
charitable organizations, including the Armenian Educational
Foundation in Glendale. The remaining payout will be used for
attorneys’ fees and administrative costs.

“This has been a long and emotional battle for my family with New York
Life Insurance Company, Marootian said Wednesday. “My mother, who
actually had in hand the original policy bought by her brother in
1910, first inquired about payment of death benefits in 1923, but her
request was ignored by New York Life Insurance Company personnel.”

Since 1999, Marootian has carried the standard for all Armenian people
who had not received death benefits from New York Life. Twelve other
plaintiffs joined him later in the class action suit.

“I’m glad that this is finally over. My prime object was to seek a
fair settlement for Armenian policy holders with New York Life and
secondly I wanted this to bring exposure to the Armenian Genocide,
which occurred between 1915 to 1923, which has so long been ignored by
the American government as wellas the Turkish government,” Marootian
said.

Marootian said that his mother continued to request death benefits
from New York Life throughout the remainder of her life and the
company continually refused to make payment. Her daughter then took up
the fight and she, too,was refused payment.

“I’m glad that Marty lived to see this settlement made. Over all
these years, since his mother began to seek death payments from New
York Life, he felt like it was his responsibility to bring the issue
to a head,” said Marootian’s wife, Seda. “I was really hoping the case
would go to trial by a jury, but I’m sure that it would have taken
many years before decision was made.”

According to Marootian, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Glendale) recently pushed
a bill through the House that acknowledged the Armenian Genocide for
the first time. He said the Bush administration is fighting it because
they are afraid of offending the Turkish government, which continues
to deny the genocide. Between the years of 1915 to 1923, 1.5 million
Armenians were systematically killed by the government of the Ottoman
Empire.

“I wish our government would have the courage to stand up and
acknowledge the genocide,” Marootian said. “My uncle was taken out
into the woods and shot and the women and children in the family were
sent into the desert to die because they were not given provisions or
shelter.”

Marootian was the only one of the 12 people in the class action suit
to be in possession of an original New York Life policy. The policy,
about the size of a small bath towel, was issued to his uncle in
1910. He said his uncle had a premonition that things might not be
going well for the Armenian people in Turkey and, in order to
safeguard the policy, sent it with his sister when she left the
country for New York in 1914 – one year before the killings began.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) stated, “We applaud
the efforts of Martin and the plaintiffs for leading the campaign to
hold New York Life accountable – even if only in small measure – for
failing to meet its obligations toward policy holders who perished in
the Armenian genocide. This case marks a significant milestone for the
Armenian nation in that the lawsuit was the first of its kind to seek
the return of genocide-era assets long thought lost, denied, and
forgotten.”

Additionally, the ANCA statement said, “To place this settlement in
its proper context, it is important to note that, while the heirs and
grandchildren of genocide-era policy holders will now receive some
portion of those funds, we should remember that those monies were not
available when these orphansof genocide needed them the most. Instead
they were collecting interest in New York Life’s coffers and remained
there for some 89 years until this actionwas taken. It is truly
unfortunate that a company that Armenian policy holders trusted was
only compelled to do the right thing after special laws were enacted
in California and a group of tenacious Armenians were able to wrestle
those funds free.”

A team of four law firms worked this case for the plaintiffs,
including Shelley Kaufman, from the law firm of Geragos & Geragos. The
law firm was founded by Paul Geragos, a longtime La Cañada Flintridge
resident whose heritageis Armenian. Also working on the case from the
Geragos firm was Mark Geragos and Mark Kassabian.

Marootian said that Kaufman was with him for five straight days while
the local man was grilled by attorneys representing New York Life in a
deposition held in their Los Angeles office. “I think I told them my
entire life story.” He said that each day he would come home from the
offices where the deposition was being taken, exhausted.

“What bothers me the most about the case,” said his wife, “is that the
United States government has never recognized that this genocide ever
happened even though the countries of France and Russia have done
so. When Marty and I began this process we never dreamed that the
efforts we have expended would be such a strain.”

Her husband added, “After the many years my mother and her sister’s
pleas went unheard and were dismissed by New York Life personnel, it
wasn’t until I stepped in with legal backing that the company would
even talk with us.”

Vartkes Yeghiayan, a Glendal-based attorney who first worked with
Marootian said, “This case proves anew that the past is not dead and
not even past. I know that this settlement will not bring back the
life of even one Armenian child, but this settlement is important
because it symbolizes our resolve to achieve justice for our ancestors
who were massacred in the Armenian genocide. We are hopeful that the
case will encourage more entities and states, which have wrongfully
withheld genocide-era assets to act appropriately.”

Harut Sassounian, publisher of the weekly California Courier, said,
“There is no question every Armenian is outraged at New York Life’s
behavior overthe past 90 years. For $20 million they are buying
silence and goodwill.”

Martin and Seda Marootian are at last feeling some peace from the
stress they have been through. “I just want to call it a day, this is
a good settlement,” Martin said.

Marootian’s says his most fervent wish is that this single case will
bring awareness to all people, especially the United State government,
to the fact that indeed there was a genocide.

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