Appeals Court Throws out Genocide Insurance Claims Case


Mirror-Spectator Staff

LOS ANGELES — A federal court ruled this week that Armenian Americans can’t seek claims from foreign insurance companies who never paid the policies of Armenian Genocide victims, citing the lack of recognition of the Genocide by the US government.

A Glendale priest, Vazken Movsesian of St. Peter Armenian Church, and thousands of other Armenian Americans, descendents of some 1.5 million Armenian victims of the Genocide had won a favorable ruling in 2007. US District Judge Christina A. Snyder had decided that a California law gave the descendants the right to sue three German insurance companies that had been selling policies to Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.

In a 2-1 ruling, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision on August 20, saying the law undermined federal policy and could not take precedence over the lack of the US government’s recognition of the Genocide.

The legal team for the survivors’ descendents, which includes attorney Mark Geragos, Brian Kabateck and Vartkes Yeghiayan, plans to ask for a hearing by a larger panel of federal judges — an En Blanc Hearing — within 10 days.

“The absurdity of the ruling is that the use of the phrase ‘Armenian Genocide’ is predicated on the president’s power,” Kabateck said. “It seems to me if you read it that way any use of the phrase ‘Armenian Genocide’ violates the constitution. It’s ludicrous because it far exceeds what the government is supposed to do.”

Kabateck also faulted the court for citing a 2003 Supreme Court decision that denied reparations for Holocaust survivors from insurance companies, overturning a California law.

“That court found it couldn’t involve itself in Holocaust reparations,” he said. “This court took the [Holocaust] case and gave it steroids. We’ve been doing these cases for 10 years. Never once has the federal government gotten involved and said ‘don’t do this.’ So what this court did is said, ‘Hey, here’s this [Supreme Court] decision and we’re going to apply it where the government never had any intent.’”

Kabateck, whose maternal grandparents survived the Genocide, said the decision may ultimately work in the plaintiffs’ favor.

“In some respects, the absurdity of the decision will be our best friend, because it could get the entire En Blanc case or get the Supreme Court to review it,” he said. “We’ll fight it anywhere and everywhere we have to.”

Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said the decision ignores a long history of US involvement in the Armenian Genocide. He cited the incorporation of the Near East Relief organization by Congress as the Genocide occurred, a 1951 US filing with the International Court of Justice that refers to the
“Turkish massacres of Armenians” as one of the “outstanding examples of the crime of genocide,” and the recent Griswold v. Driscoll case in Massachusetts in which a judge ruled that course material on the Armenian Genocide constituted government speech.