GLENDALE, CA — Nearly 200 community members including young professionals, attorneys, and students gathered at Saint Mary Armenian Church’s community hall in downtown Glendale. The public briefing addressed the implications of the recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision regarding California’s Armenian Genocide Life Insurance Recovery law. The educational event was organized by the Armenian National Committee Western Region (ANC-WR) Legal Research Team, in collaboration with the Armenian Bar Association (ABA), Armenian Youth Federation USA-Western Region (AYF-WR), and the ARF Shant Student Association.
“There are currently several major developments impacting the Armenian nation at every level – locally, nationally and internationally. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recent ruling is no different,” remarked Raffi Kassabian, an attorney and head of the ANC-WR’s Legal Research Team. “Locally, it directly impacts the genocide heir who is seeking the recovery of insurance proceeds in a California court; nationally, it impacts our Diaspora living in the United States who is seeking its Federal Government to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide; and internationally, it impacts every genocide and holocaust survivor living around the world by establishing a dangerous and chilling precedent to prohibit survivors from seeking reparations under a court of law.”
Panelists included Mark Geragos, one of three attorneys representing Genocide victims’ heirs, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) National Board member Seto Boyadjian, ABA Board Member Armen Hovannisian, as well as attorney and community activist Steve Dadaian. Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier, moderated the event. The speakers provided background and fielded questions from the audience regarding the case and what is being done by the plaintiffs as well as community organizations such as the ANCA and the ABA to challenge the ruling.
“Those who attended tonight’s event were able to get an in-depth look into this issue provided by an exceptional panel of attorneys. With their years of litigation experience, they were able educate the audience about the Movsesian case and its impact on the Armenian community,” commented Saro Kerkonian, Chairman of the ABA’s Armenian Rights Watch committee. “This event demonstrated how our community can join together to meet the legal challenges that face us.”
On August 20, heirs claiming life insurance entitlements from Armenian Genocide era policies were denied the right to sue insurance carriers for their long withheld benefits. A three judge panel of the Appellate Court struck down the underlying statute, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 345.5 which allows for redress through the California Courts, on Federal Preemption grounds. The majority reasoned that the mere use of the phrase “Armenian Genocide” conflicts with United States foreign policy objectives.
Attorneys for the heirs disagree and are appealing the decision citing no express foreign policy against the Armenian Genocide or use of the phrase. Various groups including the Armenian Bar Association, the Armenian National Committee of America, the Zoryan Institute, and the International Association of Genocide Scholars have filed an Amici Curaie brief, also known as a “friend of the court” brief, in favor of the appeal. The State of California through its Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. has also submitted an Amicus Curaie brief emphasizing the State’s long standing interest and right to regulate insurance carriers within its borders.
“As an Armenian-American law student, I think it’s important to stay in touch with Armenian issues, particularly legal ones,” said Nayiri Keosseian, a first year student at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law who noted that the discussion covered issues covered in the classroom. “I was not very familiar with the particulars of the case and its litigation so, I found it very interesting and informative.”
The Armenian National Committee – Western Region is the largest Armenian American grassroots community organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANC-WR works to promote understanding regarding issues of concern to the Armenian American community.