Legislation Opening California Courts to Recover Genocide Era Deposits Headed to State Assembly

SACRAMENTO– The California State Assembly Judiciary Committee passed legislation on June 27 that would grant legal rights to Armenian Genocide survivors and their heirs to recover bank deposits wrongfully withheld since the Armenian Genocide–by giving California courts jurisdiction over banks operating in the Ottoman Empire. The bill–SB 1524–the "Armenian Genocide Bank and Looted Assets Recovery Act," involves the recovery of funds from commercial entities operating in the region at the time.

Testifying in support of SB 1524 at Tuesday’s hearing–Armenian National Committee – Western Region (ANCA-WR) Board of Directors member Souzi Zerounian–Khanzadian told committee members that the reclamation of the assets can never serve as compensation for the atrocities endured during the Armenian Genocide. "It is simply a matter of justice exacted against those banks that took advantage of the genocide to profiteer in the midst and aftermath of genocide. A number of these banks continue to do business in California today either directly or through subsidiaries–therefore we ask you to adopt SB 1524 to help ensure this small measure of justice," Zerounian–Khanzadian stressed.

The bill passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee with a vote of 6-1 and is expected to go to the floor of the Assembly for vote on August 7–2006 before going to the Governor. The State Senate has already passed the bill–which is authored by Senators Jackie Kanchelian-Speier and Charles "Chuck" Poochigian–and sponsored by ANCA-WR.

The original Speier-Poochigian bill has been revised–however–due to a hostile amendment that was introduced and accepted during its hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 9. That amendment binds SB 1765–a bill entitling lawsuits to be filed for wrongfully repatriated Mexican Americans during the 1930s–to SB 1524.

Commenting on the dissimilarities of the two bills–Zerounian–Khanzadian said that while the ANCA firmly believes in correcting all historic wrongs–the two distinct pieces of legislation are unreasonably and unfairly joined in fate–making the passage of one contingent on the other.

"While these two pieces of legislation are both very significant–they must nevertheless be judged on their individual merits. They not only address acts that occurred separately–they also involve different fiscal impacts on the state," she added.

With an almost 1,000,000 strong Armenian community–California has a public policy interest in protecting the rights of its Armenian American constituency–asserted Zerounian–Khanzadian. "Almost every one of these individuals was impacted by the genocide. For many–their very presence in California is a direct result of the Armenian Genocide. They found a haven in California where they could rebuild their lives after escaping utter turmoil. These survivors have established their roots in and contributed to the growth of this great state. These outstanding and ongoing grievances must be addressed."

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