AXA COMPENSATES GENOCIDE DESCENDENTS
By Julien Le Bot

France24
http://www.france24.com/france24Publ ic/en/news/world/20080107-Armenia-genocide-Axa-des cendents-compensation.html
Jan 7 2008
France

Thousands of people of Armenian descent may make claims under a life
insurance policy signed before World War I. The Axa insurance company
has conceded to global compensation of 17.5 million US dollars.

Axa is legally responsible for contracts signed with the Union-Vie
insurance company before World War I, over 90 years ago. Axa has been
therefore obligated to honour its engagements and pay compensation
to the descendants of Armenians who had signed insurance policies
and were killed in the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire
from 1915 to 1916.

"Money is not the essential issue here," Alexis Govciyan, chairman
of the Coordination Council of Armenian Organisations of France and
president of the Armenian General Benevolent Union of Europe, told
FRANCE 24. "The compensation is symbolic, since it amounts to about
2,000 dollars per family. We are proud of the work accomplished by
our lawyers."

As many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1916 in
the Ottoman Empire during what is considered as the first genocide of
the 20th century. Their descendants have had difficulties obtaining
compensation.

January 7, 2008 marks a step toward recognition. Descendants of
the victims who signed an insurance policy will be able to claim
compensation. The insurance has remained unpaid until today.

Following a 2005 decision in a class action suit in the USA, three
American lawyers are seeking to find inheritors of Armenians who were
insured by Union-Vie, a defunct French company acquired by Axa in 1996.

The Armenian genocide remains a controversial political and diplomatic
issue, since the Turks refuse to use the term "genocide", instead
referring to the incident as a reprisal. The matter of indemnities,
therefore, is symbolically important.

Axa is not alone

"Of the 7,000 files relevant to the case," explains Govciyan,
"just over one thousand applications have been sent in. A third of
the claimants live in France, a third in Armenia and the remaining
third are part of the worldwide diaspora."

The Union-Vie life insurance claims by genocide victims are not
unique. On the other side of the Atlantic, Vartkes Yeghiayan, a
Californian of Armenian descent who is one of the lawyers working on
the Axa case, negotiated 20 million US dollars in reparations from
New York Life in January 2004, resolving 2,000 Armenian claims. To
achieve this goal, he did research all over Europe and found about
30 descendants of policy holders.

The Union-Vie company has never concealed the fact that at the end of
the World War I they had more than 10,000 Armenian insurance holders.

The matter was put aside, but about 30 years later, they began to
take responsibility for these outstanding policies.

Lawyers representing the descendants of the genocide victims used
California laws to bring the Axa case to a Los Angeles court. In
October 2005, an agreement was reached.

Axa agreed to pay a lump sum of 17.5 million US dollars. The
descendants were to split 11 million dollars; 3 million dollars went
to humanitarian organizations (the Armenian General Benevolent Union,
the Blue Cross and the French-Armenian Fund); and the rest went to
the lawyers.

For Axa, the matter is closed. "The money has been returned to
the descendants. We have no comment on the ruling," said an Axa
spokesperson.

According to Govciyan, Deutsche Bank is the next in line to be
approached on the matter of indemnities.