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Four California Armenian Charities Receive $333,000 Each from a $20 Million Class Action Settlement

Staff Report

A ceremony in which four California Armenian charities received $333,000 each from a $20 million class action settlement between New York Life and descendants of the 1915 Armenian Genocide took place in Los Angeles on Monday, February 28, 2005.

Martin Marootian, age 89 and lead plaintiff in the class-action against New York Life, class attorneys Brian S. Kabateck, Vartkes Yeghiayan, Mark J. Geragos and William Shernoff, California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, Bill Werfelman from New York Life and representatives from the Armenian charities were present.

The four organizations receiving $333,000 each were: Armenian Church of North America Western Diocese, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian; Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian; Armenian Educational Foundation, Glendale; and Armenian Relief Society, Maro Minassian, Anahid Meymerian, Watertown, Mass. (headquarters).

Background: Before 1915, New York Life sold life insurance policies to thousands of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. New York Life policyholders were among the 1.5 million Armenians massacred during the Armenian Genocide at that time. In the ensuing chaos, many of the rightful policy heirs were unable to obtain insurance proceeds while others were unaware that they were entitled to benefits.

During litigation, New York Life acknowledged its records indicated an estimated 2,400 policies sold to Armenians before the Genocide may remain unpaid. The class includes Armenians living in the United States and abroad who are descendants and heirs of policyholders. They will share the bulk of the settlement.

Legal and Political Significance: The class action is the oldest resolved case in U.S. history—90 years have passed between the original events and the settlement. It is also the first recorded case addressing issues involving the Armenian Genocide. The United States and Turkish governments have never officially acknowledged the Armenian Genocide despite overwhelming evidence and eyewitness accounts. In direct contrast, a private company (New York Life) acknowledged the tragedy and fulfilled its obligation to the victims.

The class action was originally filed in November 1999 in Federal District Court in Los Angeles (Martin Marootian, et al. v. New York Life Insurance Company). Class co-counsel includes California attorneys Brian S. Kabateck, Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP, Vartkes Yeghiayan, Yeghiayan & Associates, Mark J. Geragos, Geragos & Geragos and William Shernoff, Shernoff, Bidart & Darras.