I read with interest a letter to your newspaper from Paul Krekorian, a
former Democratic Assembly candidate for the 43rd Assembly District, in
which he praised state Sen. Adam Schiff’s support of California state
Senate Bill 1915. If approved by the Legislature and signed by the
governor, SB 1915 will allow family members of Armenians brutally
murdered during the Genocide of 1915 to recover life insurance benefits
owed to them by insurance companies for the loss of their loved ones.
I agree with Mr. Krekorian that state Sen. Schiff should be applauded
for appropriately positioning himself on the morally just side of this
paramount human rights issue as he enters the final phase of his
contentious electoral campaign against Congressman Jim Rogan.
Where I disagree with Mr. Krekorian is his partisan disparagement of
the efforts of Republicans in general, and especially the Armenian
Republic Council, in initiating and leading the battle that has
culminated in the passage of SB 1915 in the state Senate.
The true chronology of events leading up to the passage of the
legislation in the state Senate begins with local Glendale attorney
Vartkes Yeghiayan’s persistent efforts for years to help his fellow
Armenians obtain the insurance benefits their fathers, mothers, aunts and
uncles had paid for out of their meager earnings as farmers and
He sent letter after letter to insurance companies that had sold life
insurance policies between 1900 and 1914 to Armenians living in what was
then the eastern frontier of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The insurance
carriers wrote back that they could not pay the promised policy benefits,
arrogantly asserting that the victims’ families did not file their claims
within the limited time periods imposed by these companies after the
first World War. The companies added insult to injury by insisting that
the victims’ families must submit “death certificates” from the Turkish
government to prove that their relatives were slaughtered by Ottoman
Turkish soldiers and partisans.
In shear frustration, Vartkes Yeghiayan with my assistance filed a
Civil Rights and Breach of Insurance Contract lawsuit against New York
Life Insurance Co. on Nov. 22. Both I and Mr. Yeghiayan are Republicans.
A few weeks after the lawsuit was filed, I contacted the California
Department of Insurance and sought a meeting with then Commissioner Chuck
Quackenbush. Mr. Quackenbush agreed to see us in Sacramento. We told him
about our litigation against New York Life and future litigation against
other insurance companies doing business in California that had sold
thousands of policies to Armenians before the Genocide and then refused
to pay the policy proceeds to the intended beneficiaries.
We asked him for his department’s assistance in forcing the insurance
companies to pay these genocide claims. We wanted him to order the
companies to open up their files so that the families of the Armenian
victims living in California could obtain copies of the insurance
policies their relatives had purchased before 1915. Mr. Quackenbush
reminded us that his wife was Armenian and that he had recently assisted
Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust in pursuing their own claims against
the same insurance companies. He offered to see if he could establish a
cooperative mechanism with the insurance companies to right the wrongs
done to Armenian people.
Vartkes and I heard nothing more from Mr. Quackenbush or his staff. We
then decided to find a state legislator who would introduce a bill in the
California legislature to permit Armenians to pursue their claims against
the insurance companies in court.
We consulted many people who were sympathetic to this human rights
issue. One of these people was Albert Abkarian, president of the Armenian
American Republic Council, who pledged his organization’s full support to
our efforts. My friend, Congressman Jim Rogan, also offered us his
assistance and encouragement.
Then Vartkes and I contacted state Sen. Charles Poochigian, the
Armenian American Republican from Fresno. Sen. Poochigian agreed to draft
the Bill, now known as SB 1915, to give Armenian Americans the same
rights earlier afforded to Jewish Americans to pursue their rightful
claims against insurance companies that had profited from the wholesale
slaughter of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915, and the Jews by
the Nazis. His bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 39-0. It is now
awaiting passage in the California Assembly and signature by the
We expect that by the end of the year, California law will permit
Armenian families to sue these insurance companies and force them to
disgorge millions of dollars they cheated from their Armenian policy
holders. In the meantime, the federal judge has stayed our lawsuit until
SB 1915 becomes law.
So to correct the record, Mr. Krekorian, there were other soldiers of
valor besides state Sen. Schiff, who fought the insurance companies on
behalf of the Armenian people and many of these were Republicans, like
state Sen. Charles Poochigian, Vartkes Yeghiayan, Albert Abkarian, and
Congressman Jim Rogan.
Glendale attorney MARK MACCARLEY was a candidate for the Republican
nomination in the primary election for the 43rd Assembly District.