A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that the federal court system has jurisdiction to hold Turkish banks accountable for seizing land from Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.
This ruling was attached to judge Dolly M. Gee's dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the Central Bank of Turkey and T.C. Ziraat Bankasi, which is a Turkish agricultural bank, as well as the Republic of Turkey seeking roughly $65 million in damages.
Rajika Shah, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, said that despite the dismissal, the judge's ruling handed down late last month was important because it established that if a government takes its own citizens' property during human-rights violations, it isn't immune from being sued in the U.S. courts.
The lawsuit was filed in the fall of 2010 by three descendants of Armenian Genocide victims seeking compensation for land they claim was illegally seized when Ottoman Turks drove Armenians from the Adana region of southern Turkey during the 1915-1923 genocide.
Shah said the plaintiffs will likely file an appeal with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by April 25.
Gee dismissed the case under the "political question" doctrine, which is applied when a matter should be handled by the executive or legislative branch of the government, not the courts.
Vartkes Yeghiayan, of Yeghiayan & Associates in Glendale, represented the plaintiffs and has previously pursued multiple lawsuits seeking compensation for Armenian Genocide victims.
Yeghiayan was on a legal team that in 2005 brought a lawsuit that resulted in a $17.5-million compensation fund, set up to pay claims that two insurance companies failed to compensate descendants of Armenian Genocide victims who bought policies.
The law firm of Schwarcz, Rimberg, Boyd, and Rader also represented the three plaintiffs — Alex Bakalian of Washington D.C., Anais Haroutunian of Pasadena and Rita Mahdessian of La Crescenta.
Mahdessian, who is Yeghiayan's wife, is a lawyer with Yeghiayan & Associates.
Lucy Varpetian, senior assistant city atty. for Glendale, said that these types of lawsuits matter not only to the plaintiffs, but for the Armenian community as a whole when they can hold Turkish institutions accountable.
"It's an important issue because, with the genocide commemorations coming up, I think these issues continue to haunt the community and at least they're finding some degree of peace," Varpetian said.