Turkey Defaults on Lawsuit by Armenian-Americans

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The ancient site of Ballum, which is currently located in Turkey, is an ancestral pilgrimage site for the native Armenians of Kessab

The ancient site of Ballum, which is currently located in Turkey, is an ancestral pilgrimage site for the native Armenians of Kessab

LOS ANGELES—The United States District Court for the Central District of California on April 19 entered default against the Republic of Turkey for failure to respond to a lawsuit filed by California residents alleging harassment and degradation by agents of Turkey in the U.S., court documents reviewed by Asbarez revealed.

Barkev Ghazarian

Barkev Ghazarian

Filed almost two years ago by Barkev Ghazarian, who turned 90 on Tuesday, and his son Garo B. Ghazarian, the case, Ghazarian et al. v. Republic of Turkey, alleges that Turkey’s agents in the United States harassed, demeaned and degraded Barkev Ghazarian, an elderly man from Glendale, California, because he sought to exercise religious and cultural rights in Turkey as a native Armenian Christian in 2017.

Attorneys representing Ghazarians in the case, Karnig Kerkonian, Elizabeth Al-Dajani and Gayane Khechoomian of Kerkonian Dajani LLP, declined to comment at this stage in the proceedings.

On October 13, 2020, plaintiffs’ attorneys successfully served Turkey via diplomatic channels through the U.S. State Department. On November 20, 2020, Turkey returned the court documents to the State Department with a diplomatic note stating that Turkey expects the U.S. District Court to refrain from exercising jurisdiction over the matter and even further directed the State Department to share this information with the District Court “who should summarily dismiss these proceedings.”

Despite Turkey’s protests to the U.S. State Department, on March 16, 2021, the U.S. District Court agreed with Kerkonian Dajani LLP and specifically found that “Defendant was properly served.”  The deadline to respond by Turkey was December 12, 2020.

On April 19, the court held that Turkey failed to respond to the case as required and entered default against Turkey.

The groundbreaking case alleges violations of international law as well as statutory and common law claims against Turkey stemming from conduct committed by Turkey’s agents in the United States. It specifically alleges that Turkey’s agents harassed, demeaned and degraded Barkev Ghazarian, an elderly man from Glendale, California, because he sought to exercise religious and cultural rights in Turkey as a native Armenian Christian in 2017.

The pleading further alleges that Turkey’s agents interfered with the inheritance of Garo B. Ghazarian, Barkev’s son, by thwarting his father’s efforts to identify his family’s sacred sites within the borders of Turkey and pass to his son direct knowledge of the same and the native traditions practiced by generations of Ghazarians there.

The acts committed by Turkey’s agents were undertaken pursuant to a specific policy of Turkey targeting native Armenian Christians, as described in detail in the pleading. Plaintiffs claim that, in implementing this policy, Turkey intended and ensured that Barkev’s direct knowledge of his family’s ancestral traditions and pilgrimage sites would not pass to future generations of Ghazarians.

The complaint highlights the value of Armenian cultural and religious heritage. It claims the acts committed by Turkey’s agents as part of Turkey’s specific policy targeting native Armenian Christians.

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