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US Federal Reserve Bank facing charges from diaspora Armenians

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 3/20/2011 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

Jewelry and gold confiscated from Armenian houses during the turmoil in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 was taken to Istanbul and melted into gold coins before being deposited in a German Bank, says attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan, who has recently filed a case against the Federal Reserve Bank. After the World War I, the gold was sold and transported to the Federal Reserve Bank, he says

An Armenian-American attorney has filed a lawsuit against the U.S Federal Reserve to demand the disclosure of information pertaining to Armenian assets that were allegedly confiscated by the Ottomans during the 1915 events.

“The lawsuit against the Federal Reserve is in order to determine the legitimate ownership of this gold, Vartkes Yeghiayan, the attorney who filed the suit, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a recent interview.

Prior to 1915, the jewelry and gold confiscated from the Armenian houses were taken to Istanbul and melted into gold coins, Yeghiayan said.

"German banks took these coins and deposited them in the Reichsbank. When Germany and Turkey lost [World War I], the Allies confiscated this loot as 'war reparations' against Turkey,” he said.

“The money was deposited in the bank of England and Banque de France. As the directors of the banks realized that this particular deposit did not bare interests, they decided to purchase U.S. treasury bonds which, in turn, did bear interest. The gold was then sold and transported to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City,” he said.

[HH] Unfulfilled policies

Meanwhile, the Armenian-American Center for Armenian Remembrance, or CAR, recently opened a case against several insurance companies that sold various policies to Armenians in the early 20th century but allegedly did not fulfill their liabilities after the events of the 1915.

“The policies included life insurance, along with air, land and sea travel and cargo policies,” Yeghiayan said.

As there were only 50 automobiles in the Ottoman Empire at that time, and even fewer airplanes, the transportation sectors were not significant but the life policies were crucial, he said.

Of all the lawsuits against insurance companies, the most sensational results was yielded by the 2006 AXA case, in which the global insurance giant was obliged to pay millions of dollars in damages.

After the verdict, Turkish insurance company OYAK annulled the partnership it had entered with AXA in the Turkish market.

The lawsuit turned the U.S.-based Armenian attorney Yeghiayan into a celebrity, while the news hit headlines in the Turkish media.

He said there were 100 companies from Europe and three from United States that had done business throughout the Ottoman Empire.

“The New York Life Insurance Company from New York was one of the biggest global corporations selling insurance to mostly Armenians, Greeks and Syriacs through 41 brokerage offices in the Ottoman Empire,” he said.

After conducting some historical research, Yeghiayan said he discovered that the rightful claims with respect to life insurance had not been paid.

"I filed a class-action lawsuit in the Federal Court of California,” Yeghiayan said, adding that following a long series of negotiations, New York Life admitted that the insurance policies issued to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire had not been paid. “New York Life Insurance Company agreed to settle all valid claims relating to these policies, in addition to contributing $3 million to various Armenian charity organizations.”

The total settlement was for $20 million, he said, “Moreover, New York Life agreed to settle an additional $15 million for 1,000 policies that were issued to Greek nationals."

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[HH] Ottoman descendents eligible for insurance payouts

Members of the Ottoman dynasty could press charges against insurance companies for the non-payment of policies taken out by their grandfathers for themselves and their policies, according to a U.S. attorney who has filed similar cases in the past.

“The law applies equally for all people regardless of nationality or religion,” Vartkes Yeghaiyan recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Orhan Osmanoğlu, the fourth-generation grandson of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, told the Daily News that they were continuing their research about these policies and added that he had heard about similar endeavors by Zeynep Tarzi Osmanoğlu, wife of Osman Ertuğrul Osmanoğlu, who lived and died in the U.S.

“[But] it is too early to talk about these, as we do not have any policies at hand,” Osmanoğlu said.

"So far only people of Armenian, Greek and Syriac origins have contacted me,” said Yeghaiyan, but added that others groups were also eligible to apply.

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