LOS ANGELES, Calif. (The Associated Press)—Armenian American lawyers filed a federal lawsuit on July 30 against the Turkish government and two banks, seeking compensation for the heirs of Armenians whose property was seized during the Armenian Genocide.
Lawyers are seeking class-action status for the suit, a process attorney Brian Kabateck said could take as long as three years.
“We are rolling up our sleeves and are going forward,” he said.
The lawsuit 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.
Compensation is sought for land, buildings, and businesses allegedly seized from Armenians as they were driven from the Ottoman Empire, along with bank deposits and property, including priceless religious and other artifacts, some of which are now housed in museums in 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.
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 1860’s.
According to the lawsuit, the government of Turkey agreed to administer the property, collecting rents and sale proceeds from the seized assets and depositing 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 emails seeking comment from both banks were not readily answered.
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.
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.