WASHINGTON, DC – Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Chairman Ken Hachikian today called on President Barack Obama to reject a misguided federal appeals court decision striking down a California law to allow for the return of Armenian Genocide-era assets, and encouraged him to immediately and publicly affirm that it is not the “express federal policy” of the United States, as the court argued, to prohibit the recognition of this crime by the Congress or the states.
The letter follows a August 20th flawed ruling of a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the case of Movsesian v. Versicherung A.G. (No. 07-56722), that struck down a California law providing remedies for Armenian Genocide-era wrongs. The ruling contended that state level recognition of this crime contradicts “express federal policy” and is therefore unconstitutional.
“You bear direct responsibility, Mr. President, by virtue of your failure to keep your repeated, crystal clear pledges to recognize the Armenian Genocide, for the Court’s judgment that it is the official policy of the Executive Branch of the United States government to actively oppose proper recognition of this crime and, upon this basis, to thus prohibit states from passing laws to help Armenian Genocide-era victims seek to reclaim lost or stolen property,” said Hachikian in an August 25th letter to President Obama.
Hachikian’s letter to President Obama also noted that the ANCA’s and Armenian American community’s frustration is not limited solely to his broken promise related to Armenian Genocide recognition, but also extends to ” your White House’s use of Turkey’s cynically-inspired ‘roadmap’ to defer U.S. recognition, and your State Department’s shameless pressure on Armenia to accept the artificial ‘historical commission’ that Ankara has long advanced to prevent the proper recognition of thisvcrime.”
The California Legislature passed a law in 2000 giving heirs of those who died or fled to avoid Armenian Genocide-era persecution until the end of 2010 to file claims for old bank accounts and life insurance policies. European banks and insurers are said to have retained assets valued in 1915 at about $15 million, a sum worth substantially more in today’s dollars. Class-action lawsuits brought by Armenian descendants in California and other states led to a $20 million settlement with New York Life Insurance Co. in 2005 and a $17 million settlement the same year with French life insurer AXA.
As a candidate, President Obama issued a series of statements pledging to recognize the Armenian Genocide. In an early campaign statement, issued on January 19, 2008, then-Senator Obama stated “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.” Just three days prior to his election, his campaign issued yet another statement noting “Barack Obama strongly supports passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106) and will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” A complete background on President Obama’s past support for Armenian Genocide recognition can be viewed at:
Following his election, President Obama, while stating that his personal views have not changed on the matter, broke his repeated campaign promises by failing to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide in his April 24th annual commemorative statement.
The complete text of the ANCA’s letter to President Obama follows.
August 25, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to urge you to take immediate steps to publicly reject the flawed ruling of a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the case of Movsesian v. Versicherung A.G. (No. 07-56722, August 20, 2009), that struck down a California law providing remedies for Armenian Genocide-era wrongs, and argued that state level recognition of this crime contradicts “express federal policy” and is therefore unconstitutional.
You bear direct responsibility, Mr. President, by virtue of your failure to keep your repeated, crystal clear pledges to recognize the Armenian Genocide, for the Court’s judgment that it is the official policy of the Executive Branch of the United States government to actively oppose proper recognition of this crime and, upon this basis, to thus prohibit states from passing laws to help Armenian Genocide-era victims seek to reclaim lost or stolen property. The Court’s interpretation of your broken promise marks an unmistakable and historic low in our government’s long complicity in Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial.
As you know, over 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives and, of course, many more were deprived of their property as a result of the Ottoman Turkish government’s systematic and deliberate campaign of race extermination. It is particularly tragic, given the thorough understanding that you have articulated regarding the moral, historical, and political meaning of this crime, that, it is under your leadership that the United States government is today not only engaged in complicity in genocide denial, but also, according to a judicial ruling, actively working to ensure that the remaining survivors and their families are denied avenues to seek to reclaim property lost during these massacres.
Your Administration’s policies, as understood and affirmed by the Court, in addition to blocking legal redress for U.S. citizens, have now opened the door – in unprecedented and profoundly dangerous ways – for interests aligned with the Turkish government to seek to roll back several generations of American civil society efforts to mark this tragedy, including through formal recognition by 42 U.S. states. As such, we once again urge you to publicly reject the Court’s interpretation of your Administration’s position and call upon you to honor your covenant with American voters to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide.
In closing, I would like to stress to you, once again, how broadly and profoundly disappointing your failure to honor your many commitments on issues of special concern to Armenian American citizens has been for the ANCA, a grassroots organization that, based upon your track record and series of publicly stated commitments, enthusiastically endorsed your candidacy and successfully mobilized an unprecedented community drive to help secure your election. In the wake of your many broken campaign commitments, your silence in the face of this profoundly misguided judicial action would compound the Armenian American community’s sense of betrayal regarding your Administration’s behind the scenes efforts to block adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, your White House’s use of Turkey’s cynically-inspired “roadmap” to defer U.S. recognition, and your State Department’s shameless pressure on Armenia to accept the artificial “historical commission” that Ankara has long advanced to prevent the proper recognition of this crime.
We remain ready, as we have shared with you on a number of past occasions, to meet with you to discuss these matters personally and in greater detail.
Kenneth V. Hachikian