Genocide-era insurance claims again in the spotlight of Armenian attorneys

Lilit Sedrakyan

The issue of compensation to descendants of Armenian Genocide victims is again in the spotlight of Armenian attorneys.  The case is now pending in the US Supreme Court, and the verdict will be announced within the coming three months. The Armenian attorneys are waiting to see which option the Supreme Court will chose to decide on the fate of the genocide-era insurance claims.

In 2000 the California State Legislature adopted a law extended until the end of 2010 the deadline for filing lawsuits against insurance companies that had failed to pay benefits to heirs of Armenian Genocide victims. In 2011 the term was extended for another 10 years. The Armenian attorneys won the cases against the New York Life and AXA Insurance Companies, and the companies paid compensation to the descendants of the Armenian Genocide victims.

However, the German insurance companies, which also had hundreds of Armenian clients in the Ottoman Empire, are doing their best to avoid paying the sums. They challenged in court the California Legislature’s action by claiming that the reference to the Armenian Genocide in the California bill is an encroachment on the foreign policy prerogative of the federal government. After the Court of Appeals satisfied the claim, the Armenian lawyers appealed the decision at the Supreme Court.

Before the Supreme Court decides whether it will hear the insurance claims case, it applied to the Obama Administration for a brief detailing the U.S. government’s position on the Ninth Circuit’s 2012 decision striking down a California law extending the statute of limitations on Armenian Genocide-era life insurance claims. The Administration asked not to hear the case. In response to that the Armenian attorneys have submitted their comments to the Supreme Court, American Armenian attorney Vardges Yeghiyan has informed.

The Armenian lawyers note in their amicus brief that the California law just mentions the period when the Armenian clients were deprived of the opportunity to get their insurance sums because of exile (1915-1923), that is to say the bill is in no way related to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

It is noteworthy that the State of California defines the Armenian Genocide in the insurance bill as follows: “The Legislature recognizes that during the period from 1915 to 1923, many persons of Armenian ancestry residing in the historic Armenian homeland then situated in the Ottoman Empire were victims of massacre, torture, starvation, death marches, and exile. This period is known as the Armenian Genocide.”

Besides the Armenian side, amicus briefs defending the California Armenian Genocide-era life insurance law have been filed by the Attorneys of California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Arizona, as well as Professors from four universities. After considering these opinions and the amicus brief of the State Department attorney, the Supreme Court will decide within the coming three months whether it will consider the issue of genocide-era claims or not.

Even if the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case and leaves the verdict of the Court of Appeals in force, the Armenian attorneys will continue their efforts. According to Vardges Yeghiyan, the Armenian lawyers will file not only insurance, but also land and property claims before the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Show More
Back to top button