US Court to Rule on Turkish Banks’ Motion to Dismiss Armenian Lawsuits

Two separate lawsuits were filed last year in U.S. Federal Court in Los Angeles against the Republic of Turkey and two of its major banks demanding compensation for properties confiscated from Armenians after the 1915 genocide.

The first is a class action lawsuit seeking what could amount to billions of dollars from the Turkish Republic, T.C. Ziraat Bankasi, and the Central Bank of Turkey for unjust enrichment from liquidation of properties belonging to Armenians deported and exterminated during the genocide.

The second lawsuit, filed by three Armenian Americans, seeks $64 million for their confiscated properties in Adana, Turkey, and millions more for accrued rent and interest paid by the U.S. government in the past 60 years for use of the strategic Incirlik Air Base, built on land taken from families of the Armenian plaintiffs.

When these lawsuits were initiated, the Turkish government and its two banks ridiculed the charges, claiming that U.S. courts have no authority to judge the actions of other governments. In order to block the lawsuits, the Turkish entities refused to be served with the legal documents, which is the first step in filing a lawsuit. After lengthy cat and mouse games, Turkish officials finally received the court documents transmitted to them by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara at the request of the State Department.

After grudgingly accepting the court papers, the Republic of Turkey refused to appear in U.S. Federal Court, despite warnings from the State Department that it risked a default judgment. The Turkish banks, however, fearing a similar fate, rushed to the court and filed a motion to dismiss the pending lawsuits.

In their filings, the banks objected to the lawsuits, claiming that American courts lacked jurisdiction due to sovereign immunity. They argued that the lawsuits should not go forward because of the Ankara Agreement of 1934, the “political question doctrine,” potential harm to U.S.-Turkish relations, lack of evidence that the plaintiffs are heirs of the owners of the confiscated properties, and the expiry of the statute of limitations.

Surprisingly, the Turkish banks conceded that even if the Republic of Turkey did confiscate Armenian properties, international law precluded the filing of such lawsuits, since Turkey had taken “the property of its own nationals.”

The banks’ lawyers made the outrageous suggestion that the wills of Armenian Genocide victims be reviewed to determine the legal heirs of the confiscated properties. In case these victims did not have a will, the lawyers proposed that the relevant laws be examined to see who was really entitled to their properties.

The attorneys for the Armenian plaintiffs countered the Turkish objections and asked the court to deny the motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs asserted that the Ziraat bank branch in the United States is a private commercial bank and has no reason to enjoy sovereign immunity. Moreover, “genocide and the associated plunder of property is never deemed a legitimate act of the state. There is no application of a political question, as this case focuses on the return of unjust gains from the sale and/or rental of property held in trust. Finally, the statute of limitations does not apply because the properties were held in trust, and the failure to return them is a continuing injury.” The attorneys further asserted that there are no statutes of limitations for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.”

Contradicting the banks’ claims, the lawyers for the class action lawsuit maintained that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act does not preclude the prosecution of foreign entities engaged in commercial activity in the United States, which both the Republic of Turkey and the two banks have done for many years. The lawyers also asserted that the defendants falsely claimed that international law does not apply to foreign countries “for wrongs perpetrated against their own nationals.” On the contrary, “international law prohibits states from expropriating property of nationals conducted during genocide and human rights abuses.”

A hearing is scheduled in Federal Court on Dec. 19 to determine the validity of the Turkish banks’ motion to dismiss the two lawsuits. Should the court reject the Turkish motion, and the Armenian plaintiffs end up winning their lawsuits during a subsequent trial, the court may order that the U.S. assets of both Turkish banks be seized, up to the value of the claims, and turned over to the heirs of dispossessed Armenian victims as fair compensation.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

16 Comments

  1. Thank you, Harut, for this extremely important news report. Please keep us informed as to the Dec. 19 outcome. Once again, Turkey has threatened “potential harm to U.S.-Turkish relations. ” Threats are the default activity of a nation that knows the jig is up. We are backed by international law. Turkey’s denials are backed with nothing but increasingly impotent threats. All Americans should be offended by any suggestion that the USA is now so weak that it will subvert international law in order to appease Turkey.

  2. Thanks for this informative update Harut.

    In a related story, below is a link to an article about UC Davis Professor Keith David Watenbaugh, who is cited in the article above, and who is currently undergoing his own struggles with pressure from Turkish American groups like ATAA that want to curtail his speech regarding Turkish denial of the genocide.  He deserves our support.

    | Inside Higher Ed 

  3. Astvats im.. xntrum em.. tox amen inch mer koxma lini.. Astvats im, inch klini nayi te inchqan enq tanjvum TUrqeri dzerqi mech.. menak aynpes ara vor meronq haxten… Shat Shat kuzem vor menq haxtenq… 

    I will pray for much success for our attorneys and for our cause..

    God Bless them..

    Gayane      

  4. Perouz jan.. is not that the truth… if all fails, Turkey runs back to the same old tune.. IT WILL RUIN the TURKEY -USA RELATIONSHIP.. i am waitng for the day when US tells Turkey.. Hell with your relationship.. keep your screwed up relationship.. no one knows whether or not it may happen but it is always good to be positive right???  can’t wait for that day…

  5. Not opposed to the idea of this lawsuit. But … I would also love to see the day when the US courts make Armemian pay compensation for making over 1 million Azeris homeless who used to live in Karabak and the adjacent areas (not counting the ones evicted from Armenian Republic). Now they are refugees.

  6. Why is is that  when Good News -as rgds us Armenians-is broadcast from one dependable source ,or two for that  matter, the International media does not properly refer to it.
    I refer to :- this morning as I entered  panarmenian.com site  it was there,and then thresw the T.V. on (Sattlite) the H1 Yerevan channel confirmed  it.
    Which is the French Assamblee Nationale  by majority vote today passed the Bill  that ¨denial of the Armenian Genocide  in  France  is subject  to one  year imprisonment and 45000 Euro  as fine¨. 
    Meanwhile  pres. of Armenia  in Marseille  attending  the European Popular  Parties(centre right)the most  popular  and with most adherents to it,an  international conference,was admitted a s   member.The Armenian  community  of this Armenian dense city (100,000  strong) welcomed  him and he delivered a rather strong discourse as to ¨Time for Republic  of turkey to come to terms with Genocide perppetrated  upon Armenians  by their previous Gov.ts,adding  that we have done all and will do so to establish neighbourly relations with Turkey……  

  7. Kerim…you seem to be avoiding some key facts…such as the war initiated by the government of Azerbaijan on its Armenian citizens, in Baku and Sumgait, as well as other cities. You also overlook the 400,000 Armenians who were expelled from Azerbaijan against their will. Perhaps oil rich Azerbaijan will offer to compensate those people, who were full Azeri citizens?  At that time, under the laws of the USSR, Karabagh was a fully autonomous region, with the right to pursue a referendum of separation. The Armenian majority pursued their legal rights. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan had other ideas. 

  8. Karekin, I am sorry but you cannot argue with fact. The facts on the ground are that over 1 milllion Azeris were expelled (and some killed) from their home and lands. I am not including the ones kicked out of Armenia, of which there is about 500000. Yes, Armenians left Azerbaijan too (about 500,000), which kind of cancels each other out. Left uncompensated for are the homes of over 1 million Azeris kicked out ot of the adjacent areas not populated by Armenians. These are: Lachin, Kelbecer, Gubadli, Zengilan, Agdam, and Susha.

    You say we started the war. This is a false accusation. But in fact this does not really matter in the current context. Let’s say it is in dispute who started what. What is not in dispute is that you have made refugees out of over 1 million people!

  9. Kerim.. what are you smoking man… Azeris expelled from Armenia and how many?  you must be smoking something.. for sure.. and guess what KERIM.. Azerbajian is a made up country given to you by the devil himself Stalin for his own benefits….. those lands NEVER belonged to you.. and if you are here to cry your eyes out because your ruthless govt called on war against Armenia and Armenia with minimal weaponry and man power won the war, then you are basically a sad sad Azeri or a Turk.. whichever you are.. you Turks/Azeris love to cry me the river huh?  but we know your sad stories.. dont’ complain to us about your refugees.. go cry and complain to your genociddal govt who spends millions on modern day weapons and could care less about their people… you are barking at the wrong tree….

  10. Kerim bey.. do you despute that Arstagh was never yours?  do you despute that all those Azeris living on our lands were given free land by Stalin???? do you despute that 1.5 million Armenians were brutally were murdered by Turks/Your brothers??? do you despute that Turkey today is built on the wealth stolen from my ancestors and other Christians??? do you despute that your refugees did not belong on those lands?? do you despute that Azeris tried their best to destroy everything that is Armenian including the most ancient cemetery in Julfa.. DO YOU DENY THAT??? if Armenians did nto belong on those lands or did not own the lands, why destroy one of the most ancient khachqars/cemetary??? can you answer me that KERIM?? who thinks he knows everything but knows nothing…

  11. Here are the real fact, Kerim. Not Azeri myths that most  Azeris still  believe.
     
     
    ‘The facts on the ground are that over 1 milllion Azeris were expelled (and some killed) from their home and lands.’
    False: there are no, quote, 1 million displaced Azeri persons. {Over 586,000 people remain internally displaced in Azerbaijan after the Nagorno-Karabakh war ended with a ceasefire in 1994. The figure includes approximately 230,000 children born to internally displaced people (IDPs) since they fled their homes.} (as of 2010: source iDMC)
     
     
     
     
    I am not including the ones kicked out of Armenia, of which there is about 500000’.
    False: the real number is about 170,000 Azeris that we forced to leave Armenia after Azeri mobs massacred Armenian civilians in Sumgait(1988), Kirovabad(1988), Baku(1990).
     
     
    ‘You say we started the war. This is a false accusation.’
    No, it is a true and factual accusation. Armenians demanded peaceful separation per USSR Constitution: Azeris responded with massacres and then full scale military invasion.
     
     
    . But in fact this does not really matter in the current context’
    Yes it does: Azeris invaded NKR with their military, occupied about 48% of NKR, attempted to ethnically cleanse and exterminate the indigenous Armenian population, were defeated, and thrown out of historic Armenian Artsakh/NKR. You don’t get to attempt to exterminate people and then go back to the good-old-days as if nothing has happened.
     
     
    ‘Let’s say it is in dispute who started what’
    There is no dispute: Azeris started the war.
     
     
    ‘‘What is not in dispute is that you have made refugees out of over 1 million people!’
    Azeris are ultimately responsible for the 586,000 IDPs. Azeris started the war. 

  12. sireli gaytzag: many sincere thanks for your posting that the French govt has now passed legislation regarding the denial of the Armenian Genocide. I did not see this in any of the news reports I follow, and appreciate that you have posted it. Thanks also for giving us your information source.

  13. “‘I am not including the ones kicked out of Armenia, of which there is about 500000’.
    False: the real number is about 170,000 Azeris that we forced to leave Armenia after Azeri mobs massacred Armenian civilians in Sumgait(1988), Kirovabad(1988), Baku(1990).

    Exiling 500.000 Azerbaijan Turks is nothing but relocating 800.000 Armenians is a genocide?

    Avery, you are a hypocrite.

  14. Necati Bey.. you are in denial and very very sad mental state to say relocating 800,000 Armenians is a genocide?? wow.. what an idiotic statement… there is no word to describe your misinformed, misplaced brain cells about history… who was your teacher when you were a child or should I say when you were an adult… that person needs to be put in jail for giving you false information and on top of that to embarass yourself with such stupid comments…

    Please enlighen us and tell us what happened to that 800,000 displaced Armenians?  why did they not come back to claim their homes, and wealth back??? did they melted and evaporated into thin air?  are you really this brainwashed???  we both know it was 1.5 million +1 people were brutally murdered .. why do you pretend you are unintelligent by stating such comments??? don’t you want to be considered as someone inteligent, understanding, open minded and just individual?? or do you enjoy posting idiotic comments…

  15. necati,

    Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were outright massacred, thrown into rivers, some even thrown into the Black Sea and children stolen from their parents. I think you should look up the word “relocation” in the dictionary.

    And those that were “relocated” found themselves in death marches under the supervision of Turkish soldiers for weeks on end.

    I can’t believe I’m wasting breath responding you necati. 

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