Monday, January 07, 2008

Axa compensates genocide descendents

Monday, January 7, 2008
By Julien Le Bot / FRANCE 24

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.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



Post a Comment

<< Home