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Reader response - MARK MACCARLEY

Mark MacCarley

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

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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.

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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.

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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

shopkeepers.

He sent letter after letter to insurance companies that had sold life

insurance policies between 1900 and 1914 to Armenians living in what was

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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

governor.

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.


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