German Insurance Companies Should Stop Cheating their Armenian Clients

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
January 28, 2011

German firms filed a petition for a rehearing by the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, after a panel of three judges of that court had ruled that heirs of Armenian Genocide victims could seek payment from life insurance companies operating in the Ottoman Empire.

Rather than spending a fortune on high-powered lawyers, German insurance companies should promptly settle this case and pay the compensation owed to heirs of perished Armenian policy-holders. Many Armenian residents of the Ottoman Empire trusted these European companies and dutifully paid their premiums so that someday, when they passed away, their families would receive the proceeds of their policies.

This lawsuit has nothing whatsoever to do with genocide recognition or rights of states vis-a-vis the federal government. These German companies have violated their contractual agreements and failed to live up to their promises to Armenian policy holders. Their heirs are entitled to receive the payments owed to them, regardless of whether their ancestors were killed by genocidal maniacs or drunk drivers! The only relevant issue here is that upon their deaths, the heirs should have been promptly paid in keeping with the terms of the life insurance policies.

Instead, these German companies have avoided meeting their financial obligations for almost a century, and shamefully use Turkish denialist propaganda as their cover. Their lawyers even quote from revisionist materials posted on the Turkish Embassy’s website. If these companies had filed a similar motion denying the Jewish Holocaust and quoting from neo-Nazi websites, they would have been out of business within 24 hours!

The lawyers argue that recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. government would “cause great harm to the nation’s foreign policy interests.” It is preposterous that German insurance companies are using such irrelevant arguments in order to continue enriching themselves. Safeguarding the interests of this nation is the responsibility of the U.S. government, not that of German companies.

In their appeal, the lawyers for the German firms cleverly start their recitation of the record on U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide by citing only the last three American Presidents, because during their term in office the House of Representatives did not adopt new congressional resolutions on the Armenian Genocide.

Fortunately, U.S. history does not start with the year 2000. The lawyers conveniently ignore the fact that the U.S. government first acknowledged the Armenian Genocide back in 1951 in a document it submitted to the International Court of Justice (World Court). Since then, the House of Representatives on two occasions -- 1975 and 1984 -- adopted resolutions commemorating the Armenian Genocide, and in 1981, Pres. Reagan issued a Presidential Proclamation mentioning the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, 42 U.S. states and scores of American cities have acknowledged the Armenian Genocide during the past 50 years. The federal government has never objected to or expressed disagreement with any of those actions. If recognizing the Armenian Genocide is not in the best interest of the United States, as these lawyers contend, then Pres. Reagan, the U.S. Justice Department, hundreds of House members who voted for the Genocide Resolution, thousands of legislators in 42 states, and scores of Mayors and Governors must be anti-American!

In fact, these historic affirmations are far more relevant to this case than the politically-motivated and morally bankrupt pronouncements of the last three U.S. Presidents. When California adopted a law in 2000 extending the statute of limitation on insurance claims by Armenian Genocide victims, it did so on the basis of the extensive record of U.S. recognition up to that time. Since then, no new resolutions were adopted and no votes cast contradicting this historical record. No U.S. official has ever denied the truthfulness of the Armenian Genocide. In reality, that record has been strengthened considerably by the fact that during the terms in office of the last three Presidents, successive House committees, on at least four occasions -- 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2010 -- have adopted resolutions acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.

The most ridiculous aspect of the German companies’ appeal is their attempt to justify their irresponsible behavior by citing this writer as an “authority” and quoting from one of my articles in which I criticize Pres. Obama for referring to the Armenian Genocide as “Meds Yeghern.” Ken Hachikian, Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, is also listed as an “authority.” He too had complained about Obama’s use of that term. Pres. Obama’s choice of words has no relevance to the fact that these companies have cheated their Armenian clients and their heirs by not paying the payments owed to them.

Rather than filing an appeal, it is high time for German life insurance companies to stop playing games with the legitimate claims of their perished clients, and promptly pay what they owe to their descendants.