California Courier Online, October 6, 2005

1 - Commentary

French Insurance Co. Agrees to Pay
$17 Million to Genocide Heirs

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The Califorrnia Courier

2 - NAASR Lecture Will Feature Ottoman
Armenian Photographs in Getty Museum
3- 'Visual Poetry of the Homeland' Photo
Exhibit Opens at Ararat-Eskijian Museum
4 - Westside Guild Meeting to be
Hosted Oct. 22 at Zov's Bistro
5 - L.A. County Supervisors
Back House Resolutions
6 - Catholicos Aram I to Visit Fresno, Oct. 10-12
7 - Settlement Board Communicates
With Claimants in NY Life Case
8 - Montebello-Stepanakert Sister-City
Association Hosts Inaugural Reception
9 - UAF's 135th Airlift Delivers
$1.8 Million of Aid to Armenia
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1 - Commentary

French Insurance Co. Agrees to Pay
$17 Million to Genocide Heirs

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

The French Insurance Company Axa agreed to pay $17 million to descendants
of life insurance policyholders who perished during the Armenian Genocide.
This announcement was made by Mark Geragos, a prominent Los Angeles
attorney, during the Oct. 2 banquet of the USC Institute of Armenian
Studies honoring Federal Judge Dickran Tevrizian.
Geragos, along with attorneys Vartkes Yeghiayan and Brian Kabateck, had
filed a class action lawsuit in a California federal court against Axa for
failing to pay death benefits for the insurance policies purchased by
Armenians in Turkey prior to the Armenian Genocide. Judge Tevrizian
mediated the $17 million settlement which will be disbursed as follows: Up
to $11 million for the heirs of close to 11,000 life insurance
policyholders; $3 million for various Armenian charities; and $3 million
for attorneys' fees.A French-Armenian charitable group will process and pay
the claims. Anyfunds leftover after all claimants are paid would be turned
over to the French-Armenian charity.
The Axa settlement follows a similar agreement with New York Life
InsuranceCompany in early 2004. New York Life agreed to pay $20 million
which was to be disbursed as follows: Up to $11 million for the heirs of
2,400 life insurance policyholders who perished during the Armenian
Genocide; $3 million for nine Armenian-American charitable and religious
organizations; $2 million for administrative expenses; and $4 million for
attorney's fees.
In a lengthy interview with the French Armenian magazine, Nouvelles d'
Armenie (September 2005 issue), Yeghiayan provided several intriguing
details regarding the activities and irresponsible conduct of L'Union
insurance company which was purchased by Axa in 1996.
L'Union started selling insurance policies in the Ottoman Empire in the
1870 's and continued to do so until 1931. Simon Kayserlyan was the
Director of the 51 offices of the firm in Turkey. According to a letter
sent by L'Union to the French Foreign Ministry in 1922, the company had
sold 10,899 life insurance policies by the time of the Armenian Genocide.
In that 1922 letter, L'Union disclosed that it risked losing 42 million
French Francs or $8 million as a result of the deaths of its Armenian
policyholders. The letter also said that not meeting its obligations to the
perished Armenians would tarnish the company's reputation and prestige.
While New York Life made some attempts in the aftermath of the Genocide to
locate and pay those entitled to receive death benefits, L'Union
categorically refused to make any payments. In the early 1920's when
French-Armenian refugee centers in Paris wrote to L'Union asking to see the
list of Armenian policyholders, the company reportedly refused, saying that
such private information could not be divulged to outside parties.
In 1928, the High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations asked
several insurance companies to disclose the list of their Armenian clients,
explaining that the heirs of some insurance policyholders were children
living in extremely destitute conditions in refugee camps and that funds
from the insurance benefits would considerably ameliorate their situation.
L 'Union reportedly responded by saying that it could not comply with the
request, as it was unable to tell which of its clients were Armenians.
Furthermore, the company made impossible demands from the families of
perished individuals in order to avoid paying them. For example, in a June
18, 1925 letter, L'Union told an Armenian claimant to provide a death
certificate and a notarized document from the Turkish Consulate in Athens
proving his relationship to the deceased policyholder. Whereas New York
Life accepted the documents provided by the Armenian Patriarchate of
Istanbul, L' Union refused to accept such documents, demanding that the
survivors of the
Genocide return to Turkey to obtain the necessary certificates from Turkish
courts. As a result, not a single Armenian policyholder got a penny from
this company. After 1945, the company came up with a new argument for
refusing all requests for payment. It said that due to the 30-year statute
of limitations, it was no longer obligated to make any payments for
policies written prior to 1915.
The Axa settlement has a significant advantage over the one with New York
Life. Thanks to the efforts of the three Armenian attorneys, Judge
Tevrizian and Axa executives, there is a clear reference to the Armenian
Genocide in the text of the Axa settlement, whereas in the New York Life
agreement, the Armenian Genocide is merely referred to as "the tragic
events of 1915."
The October issue of the French magazine, L'Expansion, reported that the
next insurance company to be sued by the Armenian lawyers for non-payment
of Genocide era insurance claims would be the German firm, Victoria. There
is also talk of a lawsuit being filed against the British insurance
company, Gresham, and various German banks that operated in Turkey and had
taken deposits from Armenians in that country prior to the Genocide.
The next legal step would be to sue the Turkish government for its illegal
confiscation of the personal and real properties of Armenians in Turkey
after the Genocide.
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2 - NAASR Lecture Will Feature Ottoman
Armenian Photographs in Getty Museum
BELMONT, MA - Van Aroian will give an illustrated lecture on "Armenian
Photographs in the Getty Museum," at the Center and Headquarters of the
National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), in Belmont,
Mass., on Oct. 13, at 8 p.m.
The program will provide a visual presentation and sampling of the Ottoman
photo collection at the Los Angeles Getty Research Institute, with a focus
on its Armenian flavor and contributions. On a fundamental level this
collection provides investigators with a rare opportunity actually to see
aspects of Ottoman life and culture - a presentation of a world in
transition captured for succeeding generations.
Aroian spent some six weeks in 1999-2001 looking through the Getty's
Ottoman photograph collection. He first presented the results of his
investigations into the Getty's collection in an article in NAASR's Journal
of Armenian Studies .
Aroian earned a BA at Boston University and MA in Middle Eastern Studies at
Harvard University. He was a fellow in Urban Geography at Clark University
and an Urban Planner and Deputy Director of the Worcester Redevelopment
Authority. He later joined his brother in-law, Kevork, and wife Mary
Balekdjian Aroian in importing and retailing Oriental carpets. He is
currently a member of the NAASR Board of Directors.
For more information on Aroian's lecture or seminar or about NAASR, call
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3 - 'Visual Poetry of the Homeland' Photo
Exhibit Opens at Ararat-Eskijian Museum
MISSION HILLS, CA - The major photographic exhibition "Visual Poetry of the
Homeland: Photographs of Vahé Peroomian and Ara Meshkanbarian" is on view
at the Ararat-Eskijian Museum (AEM) from Sept. 25, thru Oct. 30. The
exhibition features over 35 color and black-and-white photographs taken in
Armenia and Karabagh by photographers Vahé Peroomian and Ara Meshkanbarian.
The photographs on display cover a remarkable range of time periods,
viewpoints, and subjects. They include architectural monuments such as
Sanahin and Goshavank Monasteries, landscape images of Lake Sevan and Mount
Ararat, as well as less-common subjects such as an elderly lady earning her
daily bread by selling sunflower seeds or a dog resting beside the
butcher's ax and a "Fresh Meat" sign.
The public is invited to attend "Dialogues with the Artists: Interview and
Reception" on Oct. 9, at 4 pm in the museum. Exhibition curator Ramela
Grigorian Abbamontian will conduct the interview with the artists and then
will open up the discussion to questions from the audience.
"I'm eager to hear the conversations started by these works on display.
They raise many issues such as the meaning of 'homeland,' photographing it
as a Diasporan, and the ancient and modern faces of the land," says
Visitors at the Sept. 25 opening were impressed, both with the beauty of
the country captured in these images, as well as with the skill of the
photographers in recreating and interpreting it. Ray Holm and his wife
Roxy Sadoyan-Holm were among the many visitors on Sunday. "The photographs
are very interesting because they give a different perspective of Armenia.
Sometimes you don't see the oak trees, but here you do," said Ray Holm.
Another visitor from San Diego County, Ray Tafejian noted, "I'm seeing
something I've never seen before. It's a good cross-section too because it
includes the older, more historical areas, with modern places like the
Central Square." Indeed, the ancient and the modern meet in these
photographs. The photographs took other visitors back to their roots.
Hrair Shekerjian said, "This is a wonderful exhibition, especially the
photographs of the churches in the mist. They remind me of my Armenian
church heritage and the images I grew up with."
Space scientist Vahé Peroomian and aerospace engineer Ara Meshkanbarian,
Diaspora Armenians living in Glendale, were impressed and proud of the
country they refer to as the "open-air museum..
The Ararat-Eskijian Museum was founded in 1993 by architect, collector, and
Genocide survivor, Luther Eskijian. His vision to collect, preserve, and
present Armenian culture and history has since been nurtured by devoted
volunteers and members. "Visual Poetry of the Homeland: The Photographs of
Vahé Peroomian and Ara Meshkanbarian" will be on view until Oct. 30, 2005,
at AEM on Saturdays and Sunday, from 1-5pm. "Dialogues with the Artists:
Interview and Reception" will be held on Oct 9, at 4 pm.
The Museum is located on the grounds of the Ararat Home at 15105 Mission
Hills Road, Mission Hills, CA 91345. (818) 838-4862. Free admission and parking.
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4 - Westside Guild Meeting to be
Hosted Oct. 22 at Zov's Bistro
LOS ANGELES - The next meeting of the Westside Guild of the Ararat Home
will be held at Zov's Bistro in Orange County on Oct. 22.
Internationally acclaimed, Zov Karamardian has been lauded as "The First
Lady of Food" by OC Metro Magazine.
As a child, Zov spent time in the family kitchen helping her mother and
grandmother cook Armenian dishes. Karamardian was born in Israel and spent
several years in the Middle East before coming to U.S. with her family.
It was during these first years in California that Zov discovered the
talents of Chef Julia Child. Ms. child became an inspiration for the
young Zov who went on to open a catering business from her home. Not
long after, in 1987, she decided to open a restaurant with the blessing
of Gary, her husband. Soon the mom and pop operation grew to be the
award-winning Zov's Bistro in Tustin.
Her Bistro & Bakery Cafe is open six days a week and serves breakfast,
lunch and dinner to over 1200 patrons a day. Zov teaches classes at her
restaurant as well as at Sur La Table, a national culinary chain. She was
thrilled when she was invited to be a volunteer instructor of culinary
arts to local high school students.
Zov and Gary continue the family tradition by adding to the roster, their
son Armen who is general manager and their daughter Taleene, the director
of catering and special events.
The Karamardian family has raised money for culinary scholarships and
non-profit organizations. They are graciously underwriting the cooking
demonstration and lunch on the 22nd which means the Westside Guild can fund
the Ararat Home in a greater way.
An integral part of the afternoon will take place after lunch when Zov
signs her newly released cookbook, "ZOV: Recipes and Memories from the
Heart." The book includes some favorite recipes which she cooked when she
was invited to the prestigious James Beard House in New York. She has a
special way to roast Rack of Lamb with Pomegranates, to cook Golden Lentil
Soup, to grill sumac coated Chicken kebab and to combine eggplant and
avocado with cilantro.
Working on the committee is Diana Hekemian, Andrea Fehring, Marilyn
Bradbury, Joan Agajanian Quinn and Barbara Poladian.
Space is limited so guests are asked to make their early reservations with
Louise Arklin at 818-368-3463.
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5 - L.A. County Supervisors
Back House Resolutions
LOS ANGELES - Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich announced that the Los
Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved his motion
supporting House Resolution 316 and House Concurrent Resolution 195,
recognizing the Armenian tragedy of 1915-1923 as genocide, and enhancing
genocide awareness.
HR 316 seeks to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States
reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity relating to human rights
and ethnic cleansing associated with the Armenian Genocide.
Also approved by a 35-11 vote was HCR 195 by Cong. Schiff that commemorates
the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 and urges the Turkish government to
acknowledge the culpability of the Ottoman Empire and establish
rapprochement with the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian people.
The Board of Supervisors will send letters in support of HR 316 and HCR 195
to the leadership of the House, the U.S. Senate, and the California
Congressional delegation.
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6 - Catholicos Aram I to Visit Fresno, Oct. 10-12
FRESNO - Catholicos Aram I will begin his three-day Pontifical visit to
California's Central Valley on Oct. 10 with a 5 p.m. Hrashapar and Acha
Hampouyr at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church where he will be
welcomed by Pastor, Rev. Vahan Gosdanian, and the Board of Trustees.
At 6 p.m., the Pontiff will meet with Holy Trinity Youth Group/Sunday
School and local Armenian students at the Church's gymnasium.
Catholicos Aram I will visit the Fresno City Hall at 8:30 a.m., the
following morning, and meet with various officials. At 9:45 a.m., he will
travel to the Armenian Community School at 1444 Wishon Ave. Later that
morning, the Armenian religious leader will visit the Fresno Pacific
University, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave.
The Pontifical Banquet will be held the evening of Oct. 11 at the Holy
Trinity Church Hall.
On Oct. 12, the Catholicos will visit a farm (North and Clovis), following
by an 11 a.m. trip to the California Armenian Home. Before his departure,
the Pontiff will visit the First Armenian Presbyterian Church, 430 S. First
The public is invited to attend all events. Admission charge for the
Pontifical Banquet at Holy Trinity is $50; 25 and under, $25. Advance
purchase of tickets is required.
For additional information, contact the Holy Trinity Church at (559)
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7 - Settlement Board Communicates
With Claimants in NY Life Case
LOS ANGELES - The Armenian Insurance Settlement Fund Board this week sent
letters and questionnaires to close to 4,000 claimants in the Marootian v.
New York Life Insurance class action case. The letters and questionnaires
will allow those claimants who have already submitted a timely claim the
opportunity to provide additional evidence substantiating their claims.
"These questionnaires will give all claimants a chance to document their
claims fully, so that the Board will have all of the information it needs
to assess the claims," said Parsegh Kartalian, staff director of the
Settlement Fund Board.
The Marootian case was filed in US District Court by the heirs of Armenians
who had purchased life insurance from New York Life in the Ottoman Empire
prior to 1915. The heirs contended that when the policyholders were
murdered by Turks during the Armenian Genocide, NY Life did not pay the
policy benefits to the victims' heirs. Last year, lawyers for the heirs
and lawyers for NY Life agreed to a settlement of the class action suit.
Under that settlement, NY Life agreed to pay up to $11 million to the heirs
of the policyholders, together with $3 million to specified Armenian
charities, and $4 million for attorneys' fees and $2 million for
administrative expenses.
The settlement agreement also provided for creation of an independent
Settlement Fund Board, which is responsible for evaluating all of the
individual claims for payment by the heirs. This independent panel is not
associated with the lawyers for the heirs or New York Life, and instead
reports directly to the U.S. District Court. Appointed by the State
Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, the Settlement Fund Board consists
of three members of the Armenian community of Southern California: attorney
and law professor Berj Boyajian; attorney and Burbank Board of Education
President Paul Krekorian; and physician and health care activist Viken
Manjikian. Board members serve without salary and volunteer their time to
ensure that each claim is evaluated fairly and independently.
In June 2005, the Settlement Fund Board opened an office in Los Angeles and
hired claims analysts, led by staff director Kartalian. The Board's staff
has been engaged in sorting, classifying and organizing the nearly 4,000
claim files that had been received as of the claims deadline, and
organizing the initial communication with the claimants. The staff will
then make initial evaluations of those claims, based on the supplemental
evidence provided by the claimants, and make recommendations to the Board.
The Board ultimately will make the final decisions on each of the claims,
and will distribute the funds after the entire claims review and evaluation
process is completed and after approval of the US District Court.
The Board is making periodic written reports to the Court to ensure that
the public and all interested parties are fully informed of the process.
All of the financial accounting records relating to the Board and its
functions are filed with the Court and are available for review by the
AISF Letters and Questionnaires are posted on the AISF website All documents and complete
questionnaires must be sent to the Armenian Insurance Settlement Fund Board
Office at: 900 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 614, Los Angeles, California
90017, and post-marked no later than November 7, 2005.
If the mailing address or contact information has changed, claimants are
urged to call the AISF Office immediately to update their records. If they
do not, all future correspondence will be sent to the address written on
the notice of claim form. AISF will not be responsible for any lost or
undeliverable mail.
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8 - Montebello-Stepanakert Sister-City
Association Hosts Inaugural Reception
MONTEBELLO, Calif. - With a flourish, the Montebello-Stepanakert
Sister-City Association held its inaugural reception, Sept. 25 at
Montebello City Hall. The Sunday afternoon event provided not only Armenian
delicacies, wine, dance and music, but also food for thought for the more
than 120 community members who attended.
Raising funds for the upcoming projects planned by the non-profit
Sister-City Association was the objective of the event, organizers said,
but the goal was not monetary.
"We wanted the participation of not only Armenian-Americans, but of the
general population of the city," said Serge L. Samoniantz, the Committee
Chairman, and the MC for the reception. "We succeeded beyond our
Joining Montebello City Mayor Bill Molinari were Councilpersons Bob Bagwell
and Norma Lopez-Reid - both active members of the Sister-City Committee,
along with Police Chief Garry Couso-Vasquez - and several other officials,
including district representatives from U.S. Congresswoman Grace
Napolitano, and State Assemblyman Ron Calderon.
Also supporting the event with their presence were two Armenian-American
councilmen of neighboring cities: Kirk Cart-zian of Downey, and Martin
Semonoff of Brea.
Before the brief program began, the guests mingled, viewed the extensive
display of photos and rugs from Stepanakert, and tasted the Armenian
delicacies offered in the foyer of the Montebello City Hall.
Samoniantz opened the program by acknowledging the officials present, and
explained the reasons and purpose of the Montebello-Stepanakert Sister City
program. He noted that the program had been initiated by the San Gabriel
Valley Chapter of the Armenian National Committee, with the encouragement
and assistance from the Montebello Armenian Center, as well as the
financial support of the local ARF "Dro" Gomideh.
Detailing the composition of the Sister-City Committee, he observed the
diversity and the breath of support it had secured from the local community
in the short time it had been in existence. "That's the object of this
sister-city project: bring the community together for the common good."
Over 24 volunteers from all walks of life participate in the monthly
meetings at the Montebello Armenian Center.
Samoniantz also noted the long and proud history of Armenians in
Montebello, and highlighted the fact that in the mid-sixties, Montebello
was the first, and so far, the only city in the United States, in which a
monument to the 1915 Armenian victims of the Turkish Genocide was erected
on public land. "Montebello became an inseparable part of the Armenian map
then, and the city has justly earned the appreciation of all Armenians for
what it has done."
Mayor Molinari read and presented the Committee with a proclamation from
the city, and in a pleasant and unexpected surprise, made a personal
contribution of $500 to the Sister-City Committee.
Following the Mayor's presentation, Montebello businessman Nazareth
Sadorian, the chairman of the non-profit Association, spoke of the great
strides Armenians have made in the city, and their numerous contributions
to local charities and institutions. He also said that the Sister-City
affiliation will allow greater interaction between the city and Armenians
in Stepanakert, broadening the bond between the two.
Also invited to speak was Raffi Hamparian, board member and former chairman
of the Armenian National Committee, Western Region. In his brief yet
powerful address, Hamparian underlined the need for the community to keep
their involvement with each other and the nation at large.
The sister-city affiliation will allow for cultural, educational, health
care and business opportunities between the people of Montebello and the
residents of Stepanakert, who are recovering from their long struggle for
independence from Azerbaijani rule.
Music was provided by Greg Hosharian, and selected female performers from
the San Fernando Valley 'Nairy" Hamazkayin Chapter presented three short
Armenian dances to the guests.
At the end of the program, three carpets made by the Stepanakert Rug
Factory were auctioned off, with the spirited assistance of Councilperson
Norma Lopez-Reid. The carpets were donated to the Sister-City Committee by
Hovig Mahseredjian, owner of Hye Keer, of Reseda, Calif. He privatized the
Rug factory in 1999, the first such privatization in Karabagh, and now
provides employment for 50 families in the area.
Capping off the program, Samoniantz invited all the guests to attend the
Montebello City Council meeting on Oct. 26, starting at 7 p.m., where the
councilmembers will formally vote for the affiliation with the City of
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9 - UAF's 135th Airlift Delivers
$1.8 Million of Aid to Armenia
GLENDALE - The United Armenian Fund's 135th airlift arrived in Yerevan on
September 30, delivering 1.8 million of humanitarian assistance.
The UAF itself collected ($712,
000) of medicines and medical supplies for this flight, almost all of it
donated by the Catholic Medical Mission Board.
Other organizations which contributed goods for this airlift were:
Mekhitarist Congregation of Armenian Fathers ($684,000); Nork Marash
Medical Center ($86,000); Shushi Music School Society ($43,000); Armenian
American Cultural Association ($43,000); Foundation Semra ($33,000) and
Fund for Armenian Relief ($32,000).
Also contributing to this airlift were: Howard Karagheusian Commemorative
Corp. ($23,000); Armenian Missionary Association of America ($20,000);
Armenian General Benevolent Union ($13,000); Western Diocese of the
Armenian Church ($12,000) and AmeriCares ($12,000).
Since its inception in 1989, the UAF has sent $415 million of humanitarian
assistance to Armenia on board 135 airlifts and 1,237 sea containers.
The UAF is the collective effort of the Armenian Assembly of America, the
Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Armenian Missionary Association of
America, the Armenian Relief Society, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of
America, the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America and the
Lincy Foundation.
For more information, contact the UAF office at 1101 North Pacific Avenue,
Suite 301, Glendale, CA 91202 or call (818) 241-8900.
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