GLENDALE â€” A judge's ruling on Monday to move forward in a class-action suit against two German banks accused of withholding money and property from victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide brings their descendants a step closer to restitution and recognition of the tragedy, their attorneys said.
"It's a watershed moment," said Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos, who represents the plaintiffs who are descendants of the victims of the genocide.
United States District Judge Margaret M. Morrow's ruling marks the first time a lawsuit against a non-insurance company regarding assets withheld from Armenian Genocide victims' descendants has gotten this far along, Geragos said.
Officials from Deutsche Bank could not be reached for comment.
Descendants accuse German banks Deutsche Bank A.G. and Dresdner Bank A.G. of holding on to assets deposited by Armenians prior to the 1915 genocide and holding on to assets the Ottoman Turkish Empire looted from the victims. .
The suit further contends that by concealing and preventing recovery of the assets, the banks profited from atrocities committed against the Armenian people within the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
"The ruling allows us to proceed with discovery and depositions," Geragos said.
Morrow delivered a 78-page decision, which Geragos called "well-reasoned and involved."
"She did a fantastic job of analysis," said Vartkes Yeghiayan, an attorney working with Geragos, said of Morrow's ruling.
"Armenians lost and banks benefited," Yeghiayan said.
Plaintiffs have won several lawsuits against insurance companies that benefited from the Armenian tragedy, Yeghiayan said. "It's only a question of time to file a lawsuit against Turkey," for committing genocide, he said.
The ruling comes a week before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign a state Senate bill that allows for the victims' descendants to pursue the assets that financial institutions kept, said Haig Hovsepian, community relations director with the Armenian National Committee of America â€” Western Region.
"The state of California has an interest in returning wrongfully withheld assets," Hovsepian said of the timing of Morrow's decision and the bill, which the group anticipates will be signed within a few days.