INSURERS PRESSED TO REVEAL NAMES NEW BILL TO HELP ARMENIAN VICTIMS.
WASHINGTON - A Southland lawmaker has introduced federal legislation to force insurance companies to reveal the names of policyholders who died in the Armenian genocide.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, said the bill was inspired by recent congressional attempts to help Holocaust survivors make insurance claims.
``As I was working on that, it occurred to me we really ought to make the same relief available to genocide victims,'' he said.
Armenian activists said the bill would make it easier for genocide victims and their families to claim benefits under the tens of thousands of insurance policies that have gone unpaid for more than a quarter-century.
But they also were not optimistic about the bill's chances at passage.
``Anything with the word 'genocide' and tied to Armenians has been vigorously opposed by the administration,'' said Ross Vartian, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America.
He and others also noted that even Holocaust restitution bills, which have a much stronger constituency in Congress than do Armenian issues, have stagnated.
Because Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed or forced to flee from 1915 to about 1920, insurance policies and other important papers were often lost or destroyed.
That, combined with resistance from insurance companies that held the World War I-era policies, has made it nearly impossible for most families to claim policies.
Over the years families have tried to claim benefits owed to them but were faced with demands for documents like death certificates.
``If a person was marched out into the desert and slaughtered, obviously you have a problem with proof,'' Vartian said.
Marty Marootian of La Canada, who has taken up a family quest to claim his uncle's 1914 policy, is among those who filed a class-action lawsuit against New York Life. A settlement has not yet been reached.
``My family's been trying to collect this insurance policy since 1963,'' Marootian said. ``It's been so many years and so long and so frustrating.''
He and his wife, Seda Marootian, said they were helped by a 2000 California law that Schiff co-sponsored extending the statute of limitations to 2010 on legal claims brought by genocide survivors or heirs.
A federal bill forcing companies to open up the books, they said, could help countless others.
``It would be great if it could be countrywide. We're 100 percent behind it,'' Seda Marootian said.
It is estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed at the hands of Ottoman Turks and tens of thousands more were deported. The Turkish government maintains the number of Armenians killed has been exaggerated.
California is now home to about 500,000 Armenians, the largest population in the world outside of the Republic of Armenia.
The Armenian proposal closely follows attempts in California and nationally to help Jewish Holocaust survivors.
Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court shot down a California law that would have required insurance companies doing business in the state to turn over information on their Holocaust-era policies.
The court held the law was unconstitutional and would meddle in foreign affairs. In response, Schiff and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles introduced similar federal bills granting all states the right to demand such policy information.
Schiff said applying the same logic to Armenian genocide era policies was a natural extension.
Gary Karr, spokesman for the American Insurance Association, said the Armenian bill proposes a ``high burden'' for American insurance companies.
``Any legislation dealing with claims more than 100 years old that arose in another country and have nothing to do with the United States raises obvious difficult issues that will need to be examined,'' he said.
Schiff said companies have a moral obligation to disclose the names of policyholders.
``To continue to deny these claims would be a further injustice to these survivors and their families,'' Schiff said. ``Families should not have to wait any longer for disclosure of policyholder lists.''
Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 19, 2003|
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