Armenian church sues the Getty

Glendale News Press

GLENDALE — The La Crescenta-based Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America filed a $105-million lawsuit Tuesday against the J. Paul Getty Museum, claiming the institution illegally bought seven pages from a sacred Bible.

The Western Prelacy claims that the seven pages, which date back to 1256, were ripped from the Armenian Orthodox Church's Zeyt'un Gospels during the Armenian Genocide, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The church is also requesting that the pages be returned.

"We expect the Getty to do the right thing," said Levon Kirakosian, a spokesman for the prelacy.

The Getty states on its website that the illustrations by T'oros Roslin were "separated from the manuscript at some point in the past" and were acquired by the museum.

"The Getty is confident that it has legal ownership of these pages, known as Canon Tables, which have been widely published, studied and exhibited," the museum's spokeswoman, Julie Jaskol, said in a statement.

The museum acquired the pages from a private U.S. collection in 1994 after reviewing the origin of the pieces, she said.

The previous owner of the collection has asked the museum not to disclose their identity, Jaskol said.

The pages have also been described, reproduced and written about in articles, as well as displayed in a 1994 Armenian art and culture exhibition in New York, she said in the statement.

"At no time in the 90 or so years that the Canon Tables have been in the United States has anyone questioned their ownership," Jaskol said in the statement. "The Getty believes the lawsuit is groundless and should be dismissed."

The plaintiff's lead attorney, Vartkes Yeghiayan — who often represents victims of the Armenian Genocide — was researching the atrocity when in 2007 he discovered the Getty Museum was housing the pages, said Michael Bazyler, a Chapman University law professor speaking on behalf of the attorney.

"We have asked the Getty to give it back to the church, but they declined to do so," he said.

Armenian people place a high value on historical relics lost during the 1915 genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks, Kirakosian said, "because we are trying to hold on to our identity and survival."

The Zeyt'un Gospels are at the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, Armenia, according to the lawsuit.

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