Not far from this same keyboard, in Watertown Square in Massachusetts, stands the armenian museum of america. Founded in 1971, within one of the largest Armenian communities in the country, the museum has given itself the following mission:
The Armenian Museum of America is the largest Armenian museum in the Diaspora. It has become a major repository for all forms of Armenian material culture that illustrate the creative endeavors of the Armenian people over the centuries. Today, the museum’s collections contain more than 25,000 artifacts, including 5,000 ancient and medieval Armenian coins, 1,000 stamps and maps, 3,000 textiles, and 180 Armenian inscribed carpets. In addition to over 30,000 books in the Research Library, there is an extensive collection of Urartian and religious artifacts, ceramics, medieval illuminations, and various other items. The collection includes items of historical significance, including five of the Armenian Bibles printed in Amsterdam in 1666.
But the Armenian Museum is more than just a repository of artifacts. It is a living museum and library that offers exhibitions and various cultural and literary programs to its members and the community at large.
In the museum, in addition to these artifacts, is a permanent exhibition on the Armenian Genocide, the systematic forced dislocation and murder of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923, a policy so infamous that Adolf Hitler used it as justification for his own crimes against humanity. The difference, which Hitler himself cited, was that due to Turkish resistance, recognition of the reality of the genocide was delayed for decades by Western nations who should have known better. For example, the United States recognized the Armenian Genocide three years ago this April.
Be that as it may, during the 2000s a series of trials, based in Los Angeles, seemed to lead to some kind of circumscribed justice for the descendants of murdered Armenians. From Los Angeles Times:
Then, in the mid-2000s, court cases in Los Angeles, home to one of the largest Armenian communities outside of Armenia, delivered a measure of justice that history had long denied. Three Armenian-American lawyers sued to collect life insurance policies from genocide victims and walked away with a pair of class action settlements totaling $37.5 million. Finally, in an American courtroom, the genocide was treated as a fact.
Of course, that’s a lot of money, and this being the United States of America, the vultures would have waited.
In the decade since, however, the long-awaited reparations have turned into a corrupt process marked by embezzlement and misconduct that even the lawyers involved have dismissed as fraud, the Times has found in an investigation that ended was relying on newly unsealed records, other court documents, official documents and interviews. More than $1.1 million in a settlement with a French insurer was directed in various places to bogus plaintiffs and bank accounts controlled by a Beverly Hills lawyer with no official role in the case, according to court documents and records. financial. A French foundation that was supposed to distribute millions in settlement funds to charity was never created, and about $1 million of that money ended up in Loyola Law School, the alma mater of two lawyers in the matter, according to an accounting provided by the school.
Armenians who volunteered to collect ancestor policies in the settlement with the French insurer had their claims dismissed at an astonishing 92%, according to court records. Applicants were turned down despite being offered compelling evidence such as century-old insurance records, birth certificates, ship manifests, hand-drawn family trees and copies of heirloom Bibles. “It was for us blood money – the blood of those killed in the genocide,” said Samuel Shnorhokian, a retired French businessman who served on a court-approved settlement board and who tried for years to persuade the FBI and other agencies to investigate. “We never thought there would be embezzlement.”
The story behind the lawsuits is fascinating. A Californian lawyer read in the memoirs of a former American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire that, acting with impunity, the Turkish government demanded the reimbursement of the American life insurance policies held by the Armenians that the Turkish government had you are beautiful. For a time, the trial strategy sailed smoothly. Then everything changed.
It is in the second case that red flags have emerged. This settlement, with Parisian insurer AXA, designated up to $11.35 million for descendants. Decisions on whether the claims were legitimate or not were to be made by a council of three prominent French Armenians, according to the terms of the settlement and documents filed in court. Months before the appointment of the French board, the lawyers – Kabateck, Yeghiayan and Geragos – established important parts of the approval process in Los Angeles, according to court records and lawyers’ emails later given to authorities.
They installed as the administrator of the settlement – the coordinator of the claims process – a courtroom interpreter from Glendale who had helped administer the New York Life settlement. They asked him to hire staff and set up operations in downtown Los Angeles, in the same Wilshire Boulevard office used for the New York Life case. The arrangement put the decision-making process that got the money 6,000 miles from Paris, making it difficult for the French board to provide meaningful oversight.
This unwieldy arrangement gave rise to new — and, in the minds of many plaintiffs, unreasonably restrictive — criteria by which to judge claims made for money.
The new criteria appears to have had a profound effect: accounts in court records show that less than 8% of AXA’s claims were approved for payment. One of the results of the low approval rating was that millions of dollars in the settlement accounts could be used, according to the wording of the settlement, for charitable purposes.
Those rejected on the basis of city of residence included people who had provided what appeared to be overwhelming evidence that they were rightful heirs, according to archived files reviewed by The Times in recent months. Some who were refused had sent copies of their ancestors’ insurance policies – some of the strongest evidence possible that they had valid claims. Archived files suggest evaluators rejected applications without reviewing the evidence, writing: “cities don’t match”.
The alleged actions of administrators and attorneys add one more violation to those already inflicted on the families of the victims.
Another denied claimant wrote that he had sent 23 documents to prove he was a descendant and was counting on the money for heart surgery. “My paternal grandparents were beheaded in the presence of my father,” he wrote. “Honestly, I’m so disappointed.”
Where the money allegedly went turned out to be another scandalous aspect of the whole affair.
Among the hundreds of Armenians approved for compensation from the AXA fund, a Syrian named Zaven Haleblian stood out. He was awarded $574,425, more than any other individual, according to a settlement database later provided to authorities, court records and documents filed with the California State Bar.
Yet, as the French board soon learned, Haleblian had never heard of the AXA settlement, let alone applied for it.
With the files and bank statements, the French board and Yeghiayan began working together to find out where the money went in the AXA settlement. Glendale’s attorney tracked down Haleblian in Aleppo and arranged for him to be interviewed under oath in the United States. During a deposition, he said he was shocked that checks were issued in his name. He said he had never heard of the supposed ancestors – members of the Funduklian family – listed for him in the colony’s database.
The story has an even more sprawling cast of characters, many of whom seem to have been drawn to a pot of money the way sharks are drawn to blood. The allegation is that a historic crime against humanity resulted in a historic crime against the descendants of the victims.
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