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      Reference to Genocide Deleted From AXA Insurance Settlement

Reference to Genocide Deleted From AXA Insurance Settlement   2/02/2006

Reference to Genocide Deleted From AXA Insurance Settlement

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

The French Insurance Company AXA agreed last October to pay $17.5 million to descendants of life insurance policyholders who had perished during the Armenian Genocide.

Mark 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 1915. The proceeds of the agreement, which was mediated by Federal Judge Dickran Tevrizian, are to be disbursed as follows: Up to $11 million for the heirs of life insurance policyholders; $3 million to be contributed to a newly-created French-Armenian charity; and $3 million for attorneys’ fees and legal/administrative expenses.

Commenting on this agreement in an earlier column, I had noted with satisfaction that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) pertaining to this lawsuit had one significant advantage over the one concluded earlier with New York Life. There was a clear reference to the Armenian Genocide in the text of the AXA agreement, whereas in the New York Life settlement, the Armenian Genocide was merely referred to as "the tragic events of 1915."

The MOU signed between AXA, the Armenian plaintiffs and their attorneys had stated: "The actions assert claims under life insurance policies issued to or on the lives of persons of Armenian descent or ancestry who died as a result of events commencing in 1915 that the French government formally acknowledged as the Armenian Genocide."

Regrettably, the Settlement Agreement subsequently signed on November 18, 2005, deleted the reference to the Armenian Genocide and replaced it with the following more matter-of-fact statement: "AXA does not take any position or express any view as to the political and/or historical issues concerning the nature of the events in Turkey in and around 1915 and has made the decision to settle purely from a business perspective to settle its obligations under unpaid insurance contracts."

The deletion of the reference to the Armenian Genocide is most probably the direct result of the wave of anger unleashed in Turkey following the news that AXA had agreed to pay $17.5 million to Armenian heirs of life insurance policyholders who had perished in the Armenian Genocide. Major Turkish unions and political officials pressured OYAK, a Turkish industrial venture firm representing the Turkish army pension fund, which has been an AXA partner since 1999, to terminate its association with the French insurance company. Turkey's Memur-Sen trade union, which represents 200,000 civil servants, decided to boycott AXA, union head Ahmet Aksu said.

In response to these Turkish protests, AXA executives declared that their "decision to indemnify heirs of Armenians massacred under the Ottoman Empire was neither politically motivated nor amounted to a recognition of the killings as genocide," the French news agency AFP reported. "AXA, as a private sector company, has not (and does not) express any view or opinion on the political or historical issues concerning the nature of the events in Turkey in 1915," the company said. "From AXA's perspective, this case is exclusively about meeting our obligations under unpaid insurance contracts," it said.

It is obvious that AXA buckled under the one-sided Turkish pressure in the absence of any counter-pressures from the Armenian side. However, it is not too late for Armenians to make their voices heard and express their resentment of the deletion of the reference to the Armenian Genocide from the text of the settlement.

Any "Settlement Class Member," meaning any of the potential beneficiaries of the AXA agreement, can object by writing before April 15, 2006, to the Honorable Christina A. Snyder, the U.S. District Court, for the Central District of California, 312 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Copies of the letter of objection must be sent to the attention of Class Counsel Brian Kabateck, at Kabateck Brown Kellner, 350 S. Grand Ave., Suite 3900, Los Angeles, CA 90071; and to AXA Counsel Fred W. Reinke, at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae LLP, 1875 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 1200, Washington, D.C. 20009.

Those objecting to the proposed settlement must appear at the "Final Fairness Hearing" which will be held on May 15, 2006, at 10 a.m., before the Honorable Christina A. Snyder, in Courtroom 5 of the U.S. District Court. Should their objection be rejected by Judge Snyder, those wishing to appeal the "District Court’s Approval of the Settlement" could do so 30 days after entry of the Final Order and Judgment.

The above outlined procedure provides to the Armenian claimants the opportunity to inform the judge as well as AXA that they vigorously object to the deletion of the reference to the Armenian Genocide from the Settlement Agreement, which was done under blatant Turkish pressure and blackmail.


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