Commentary: A Time for Reckoning


By Edmond Y. Azadian

A class action lawsuit brought against the Republic of Turkey, the Central Bank of Republic of Turkey and TC Ziraat Bankasi by Kabateck Brown Kellerner LLP on behalf of Garbis Davoyan and Hrayr Turabian at the United States District Court, Central District of California, was met with a variety of reactions. The Turkish media and bloggers tried to ridicule the case, while some Armenians looked upon it as an exercise in futility. However, the descendants of the Genocide victims were heartened that finally justice may be served, especially those whose families have preserved property deeds and pertinent documents. The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported the news with equanimity, fearful of the outcome of the case.

Attorneys Brian Kabateck, Mark Geragos, Berj Boyajian and Ara Jabagchourian have a distinguished record of winning class-action lawsuits and celebrity cases, and they would not put their reputation on line if the case did not have merit.

Of course, this lawsuit will present an uphill battle, because a disinherited minority will be battling the huge bureaucracy of the Turkish government.

The case may also encounter some political hurdles because Turkey knows how to manipulate these cases by interjecting fears of jeopardizing Turkish-American relations, as it happened in 2009, when Turkish Ambassador to the United States Nabi Sensoy intervened by writing to Margaret M. Marrow of the US District Court in California with regard to the New York Life suite filed by descendants of policy holders: “I am deeply concerned that the plaintiffs have asked you to sit in judgment on Turkey’s sovereign acts carried out within its territory, from which I would request that you refrain,” and adding elsewhere, “I would suggest that your use of the term ‘Armenian Genocide,’ is inappropriate.”

Of course, at that time, the Turkish intervention did not affect the New York case and a settlement was reached.

But in August 21, 2009, a divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling stating that the California law attempted to undercut the president’s diplomatic authority and had to be preempted by the federal policy against acknowledging the Genocide.

But the encouraging success stories are more compelling. Indeed, three lawyers — Mark Geragos, Brian Kabateck and Vartkes Yeghiayan — led the charge of corporate accountability and won the case against New York Life Insurance company with a settlement of $20 million for the heirs of the Armenian Genocide.

After the success of New York Life, Geragos, Kabateck and Yeghiayan initiated one against the French insurance company, AXA, that was settled for $17.5 million.

On that occasion, Geragos announced that time had come for Armenians throughout the world to focus on the reparations issue.

After the successful settlement of New York Life, Yeghiayan commented: “This lawsuit 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.”

The present lawsuit is different in nature. It does not focus on foreign-based companies that conducted business in the Ottoman Empire; this time around it is against the Turkish government and the outcome will not only result in material compensation, but it will have far-reaching political ramifications. That is why we have to anticipate that the Turkish government will fight tooth and nail not to lose the case.

The lawsuit alleges that the Turkish government usurped the properties of its citizens in 1915, and contrary to its decision to compensate those citizens’ legal heirs, with the accumulated revenues of those properties and assets, it has reneged on its commitment.

I personally have a vested interest in the outcome of the lawsuit, because a significant parcel of land in Incirlik, where a US airbase has been built, belongs to my grandparents.

Turkey’s growing power in the world political forum is a factor to consider. However, successive Turkish governments, from the Ottoman era to the Ittihad period and later in the Republican years, have committed so many crimes that will haunt them for perpetuity.

The citizens of modern Turkey cannot sit comfortably on the unmarked graves of 1.5 million of their Armenian victims and claim that those atrocious acts were their “sovereign rights” to commit.

As Turkey pursues membership in the European Union, it has to account for its past misdeeds. Many Greek Cypriots who have been victims of 1974 Turkish aggression have been suing the Turkish government at the European Court and they are winning their cases.

Non-compliance of the court’s verdicts will reflect negatively on Turkey’s European aspirations.

Those precedents give credence that this new lawsuit has good chances of success.

Justice is indivisible; it cannot be measured by the amount of any settlement.

As the victims of Turkish crimes chip away gradually that nation’s recalcitrance, the path for territorial claims may be opened.

At this time there are approximately 100 cases of territorial disputes between nation states around the globe; some of them may be settled through negotiations, others through wars. The majority of them may never be settled but the victimized parties will maintain their claims for perpetuity.

Today, the time has come for reckoning with Turkey.