Armenian-Americans File Lawsuit In Calif. Against Turkey, Banks Seek


AP Special Correspondent
6:20 PM PDT, July 29, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Armenian-American lawyers filed a federal lawsuit
Thursday against the Turkish government and two banks seeking
compensation for the heirs of Armenians whose property was allegedly
seized nearly a century ago as they were driven from the Turkish
Ottoman Empire.

Lawyers were seeking class-action status for the suit, a process that
attorney Brian Kabateck said could take as long as three years.

“We are rolling up our sleeves and are going forward,” he said.

The suit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Garbis Davouyan of Los
Angeles and Hrayr Turabian of Queens, N.Y. It alleges breach of
statutory trust, unjust enrichment, human rights violations and
violations of international law.

It seeks compensation for land, buildings and businesses allegedly
seized from Armenians along with bank deposits and property, including
priceless religious and other artifacts, some of which are now housed
in museums in the Republic of Turkey.

Attorney Mark Geragos said it was the first such lawsuit directly
naming the government of the Republic of Turkey as a defendant.

“All of the lawyers involved have relatives who perished or fled the
Armenian genocide, which gives it a special poignancy for us,” he said.

The lawsuit claims more than a million Armenians were killed in
forced marches, concentration camps and massacres “perpetrated,
assisted and condoned” by Turkish officials and armed forces.

The U.S. government does not recognize the mass killings of Armenians
during World War I as genocide.

Also named in the lawsuit were the Central Bank of Turkey and T.C.,
Ziraat Bankasi, the largest and oldest Turkish bank with origins
dating back to the 1860s.

The lawsuit claims the government of Turkey agreed to administer the
property, collect rents and sale proceeds from the seized assets and
deposit the receipts in trust accounts until the property could be
restored to owners.

Instead, the government has “withheld the property and any income
derived from such property,” the lawsuit said.

A message left with the Turkish Consul General’s office in Los Angeles
was not immediately returned. After-hours e-mails seeking comment
from both banks were not immediately returned.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs believe records of the properties and
profits still exist, and they are seeking an accounting that could
reach billions of dollars.

Geragos said the biggest issue in Armenian communities is seeking
recognition for the ethnic bloodshed that allegedly claimed the lives
of as many as 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1919.

In 2000, the California Legislature recognized the deaths as genocide
when it allowed heirs to seek payment on life insurance policies of
dead relatives.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later invalidated the law.

Geragos has appealed that ruling.

Still, the heirs were paid nearly $40 million by New York Life
Insurance Co. and French insurer AXA.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling of Kabateck in 2nd paragraf)

From: A. Papazian