Diocese receives payment from life insurance lawsuit

Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Jake Goshert, Coordinator of Information Services
Tel: (212) 686-0710 Ext. 60; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

January 27, 2005


They were grocers, merchants, and homemakers. They were Armenians who
were killed and lost in the Genocide in 1915. They were also customers
of New York Life.

On Thursday, January 27, 2005, the insurance giant began to make good on
its promise to insure the lives of these Genocide victims.

As part of a $20 million settlement reached between New York Life and
descendents of its policy holders massacred in the Genocide, the company
contributed a total of $3 million to nine Armenian organizations.

While most of the settlement will go to descendents of the original
policy holders, this $3 million to charitable organizations is a
symbolic payment to those Armenians who left behind no descendents or
whose entire families were wiped out in the Genocide.

“I’m pleased to see the money from the settlement directed toward these
charities,” said Brian Kabatek, a half-Armenian Los Angeles-based
attorney who was one of the lead lawyers in the class action suit.
“They were selected because they were instrumental in helping Armenians
settle in the United States after the 1915 Armenian Genocide. My family
benefited from these charities when they arrived in America so long

The Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) was one of the
organizations to receive $333,333 as part of the settlement. The money
must be used for charitable purposes, and cannot be used to cover
administrative or capital costs. The Attorney General of California,
where the suit was brought, will oversee the use of the funds by the
nine organizations.

“It is a solemn day, thinking that we receive this money because of the
suffering of our people,” said Dr. Sam Mikaelian, executive director of
the Diocese who accepted the money on behalf of the Diocese during a
ceremony at the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s New York City
offices on January 27, 2005. “However, we are resolved to find a way to
use these funds to honor the memories of the countless Armenians lost to
the Genocide. Their legacy will live on as we, thanks to this gift, are
able to provide more services and outreach to Armenians.”

The Diocese has not yet determined how best to use the funds. Also
receiving $333,333 are: the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of
America, The Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Armenian Educational
Foundation, the Armenian Relief Society, the Eastern and Western Prelacy
of the Armenian Church, the Armenian Catholic Exarchate for the U.S. and
Canada, and the Armenian Missionary Association of America.


The settlement with New York Life brings to a close America’s longest
contested insurance settlement: 90 years have elapsed between the death
of policy holders and payment.

The class action suit was originally filed in November 1999 on behalf of
Martin Marootian, an 89-year-old who lost his family members to the
Genocide. His uncle, Setrak Cheytanian, had an insurance policy with
New York Life.

“I have in my possession an insurance policy on my uncle’s life, which
my mother and older sister had been trying to collect since 1923. They
came to America in 1914 with the insurance policy,” Marootian said in a
recent interview with the AGBU. “[New York Life] claimed they had no
records of the policy and wanted proof of death — they wanted to make
sure that we were the proper heirs. She had to write to the Patriarch
in Constantinople to verify that there was a massacre in Kharpert and he
had died. Time went by and my mother received a death certificate
notice from the Patriarch only in May 20, 1956. We got all those papers
together and still we couldn’t make any headway with New York Life.”

Along with Marootian, New York Life now acknowledges that a review of
its records shows that an estimated 2,400 policies sold to Armenians in
the Ottoman Empire may remain unpaid.

The lawyers who negotiated the settlement — Kabateck, Vartkes
Yeghiayan, Mark Geragos, and William Shernoff — are also in
negotiations with two other companies, which are as yet unnamed.

Armenians who think their family members might have had policies with
New York Life and are due settlement, can get more information on the
case and search a list of policy holders by visiting the website

Descendants have until March 16 to make a claim for a portion of the $20
million settlement with New York Life.

Attending the ceremony were California Insurance Commissioner John
Garamendi and Bill Werfelman, a representative from New York Life.

— 1/27/05

E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable in the News
and Events section of the Eastern Diocese’s website,

PHOTO CAPTION (1): Representatives from some of the nine Armenian
charitable organizations listen as attorney Brian Kabatek speaks on
Wednesday, January 26, 2005, during a ceremony announcing the immediate
payout of $3 million from a $20 million settlement with New York Life
over unpaid insurance claims owed to the families of victims of the
Armenian Genocide.