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Schiff introduces genocide bill

Ryan Carter

Legislation seeking to help survivors of those killed in the Armenian

Genocide collect on pre-genocide insurance policies has been launched

by a local lawmaker.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) on Thursday introduced the Armenian

Victims Insurance Fairness Act.

If passed and signed by the president, it would give states the

authority to assist survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and the

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families of those killed, in making insurance claims.

The Armenian Genocide was a campaign of ethnic cleansing, which is

said to have been launched by the Ottoman Empire. The massacre killed

1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923. Burbank and Glendale are

home to one of the largest populations of Armenians outside of

Armenia.

The bill allows states to require insurance companies doing

business in a given state to disclose genocide-era insurance

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information, a key provision since Armenian families have not been

able to get the insurance companies to disclose policyholders from

the era. The legislation also expresses congressional disapproval of

an executive branch policy or agreement that preempts states’ ability

to enforce the policy, Schiff said.

“A lot of my constituents have family members who were lost during

the genocide,” Schiff said. “Many have not been able to pursue claims

on the policies their families possess. [This bill] is a matter of

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fairness.”

In September, Schiff introduced similar legislation to assist

survivors of the Holocaust. And as a state senator in 2000, he

introduced similar successful legislation for Armenians relating to

statutes of limitations for filing insurance claims.

“It’s absolutely important legislation,” said Ardashes Kassakhian,

director of government relations for the Armenian National Committee,

Western Region. “It addresses an issue that’s been overlooked for

more than 80 years.”

Officials look back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when they said European and American insurance companies signed Armenians in

the Ottoman Empire to policies in what they knew were tenuous

circumstances in the midst of war and governmental oppression. Among

those insurance companies was New York Life, which settled a

class-action claim brought by Armenians in 2001. As part of the

settlement, the company reportedly agreed to pay up to $3 million to

Armenian civic organizations and to pay participants in the action 10

times the face value of the policy on claims. The firm also disclosed

a list of heirs to the claimants.

Schiff said that this is not a backhanded way to get the United

States to fully recognize the Armenian Genocide.

The term is not even in the text of the bill, he said. The bill

does not require proof of genocide.

“You have to prove you had a policy that covered the conditions

under which you lost life or property,” he said, adding that he hoped

the Turkish lobby would also see the distinction.


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