Federal Judge Wrongfully Dismisses Lawsuit on Armenian Properties in Turkey

Harut Sassounian


Federal Judge Dolly M. Gee, wrongfully claiming lack of jurisdiction, dismissed a lawsuit on March 26, filed by Armenian-Americans demanding compensation from the Republic of Turkey for confiscating their properties during the Armenian Genocide.

Attorneys Berj Boyajian, Mark Geragos, Ara Jabagchourian, and Brian Kabateck had filed a class action lawsuit on July 29, 2010, on behalf of Garbis Davoyan of Los Angeles, Hrayr Turabian of New York City, and all Armenians whose ancestors had real estate holdings in Turkey. The grandparents of Davoyan and Turabian owned land near Aintab and Adana. The complaint also charged Turkey’s Central Bank and Ziraat Bankasi of unjust enrichment by benefiting from the proceeds of the confiscated Armenian properties.

Since the Republic of Turkey and its two major banks contended that US courts lacked jurisdiction over foreign entities due to sovereign immunity, the Armenian plaintiffs argued that the lawsuit should proceed due to two exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA): “Commercial Activity” and “Expropriation.”

The Federal Judge ruled that both of these exceptions did not apply in this case. She found the banks’ commercial role in the US to be minimal and unrelated to the claimed grievances. She ruled that the expropriation exception is also not valid because the property was not “taken in violation of international law.” She stated that the appropriation of personal property contravenes international law if: 1) it does not serve a public purpose; 2) it discriminates against or singles out aliens; and 3) the foreign government does not pay compensation. Judge Gee held that Armenians were citizens of the Ottoman Empire based on the Law of Nationality of January 19, 1869, “which treated all persons found within the Ottoman Empire as Ottoman subjects.” According to the Judge, this law “remained in effect until May 23, 1927, when Law No. 1041 stripped Turkish citizenship from the Armenians who had fled or were deported from the Empire during the events at issue in this lawsuit.” She concluded: “Legally, Armenians whose property was taken and who were deported from the Ottoman Empire were citizens at the time.”

In making these rulings, Judge Gee made a series of grave factual errors and misapplied the law. Her contention that Armenians were Ottoman citizens at the time of the genocide and deportations, and therefore not subject to US court jurisdiction, is flatly wrong. In a telegram dated Sept. 9, 1915, Minister of Interior Talaat issued the following order: “The rights of Armenians to live and work on Turkish soil are totally abolished.” Thus, Talaat had revoked the Armenians’ Ottoman citizenship as of Sept. 9, 1915, making them non-citizens at the time of the expropriation of their properties. This fact alone invalidates the fundamental premise of the Judge’s ruling that the Federal Court has no jurisdiction over Turkey’s expropriation of its citizens’ property.

Furthermore, since Ottoman citizenship was imposed upon native Armenians after their territory was overrun by Ottoman armies, Armenians were forced to become the unwilling subjects of a foreign invader. The Judge’s erroneous ruling leads to the absurd and dangerous notion that the rights of people under occupation can be violated without any recourse to international law, once the conquering nation declares them to be its citizens.

Judge Gee committed a second serious error when she made the convoluted argument that expropriation of foreign properties could have fallen under the jurisdiction of her court if carried out in conjunction with acts of genocide, because “genocide violates international law.” However, she ruled that the Armenian lawsuit does not meet the foregoing criteria, because it involves a “Political Question” related to foreign policy that falls under the jurisdiction of the executive and legislative branches, not the judiciary. She completely ignored the fact that the lawsuit was not filed under a claim of genocide, but as a violation of international law that includes Crimes Against Humanity, but not necessarily genocide. Apparently, the Judge was not aware that the US government on several occasions had recognized the Armenian Genocide, making her argument about the separation of powers completely meaningless.

There is a good possibility that the Federal Court of Appeals would reverse Judge Gee’s baseless and erroneous ruling. The plaintiffs’ lawyers could strengthen their case considerably by pointing out some of the factual errors in her ruling, as well as rectifying the shortcomings in their own filing.

Lawsuits against Turkey must be filed with utmost care, preparation and professionalism, since they impact the interests of the entire Armenian nation, particularly on the eve of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

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  1. Assimilated Armenian said:

    There is a pattern here. Every judge that shoots down an Armenian case is closely tied to the Clintons.

  2. Zareh said:

    Sireli Harut,

    Miyanyn zenkov gah hayotz pergoutyoun.
    No jurisdiction in the U.S. gave us Artsakh. The only way any nation can restore its territorial integrity is by the use of force.
    So please let us stop spending hard earned dollars on lawyers and the legal system and let us build military infrastructure in Armenia.
    The only language Turkey understands is the language of force.

    • Charter_Communication=Criminals said:

      To be precise, “force” is not a word to be thrown around. A more constructive word is “nationalism”.

    • ronnie said:

      Bravo Zareh! you got it right ! zenkov yev aveli medz endaneek oonenalov.

    • Papken Hartunian said:

      Zareh, I agree with you one hundred percent! As I repeatedly stated that we have to speak with top guns not with a soft tongs!! Everything else is waste of time and money.

  3. An Armenian said:

    Did you expect anything otherwise? Let us get real; Obama and the US State department cater to the Turkish government on issues related to the Armenians and the Armenian Genocide.

  4. Barkev Asadourian said:

    About the time, we better to keep going to proof our JUSTICE all over the world, GETZTZES!!!

  5. Samuel said:

    What is the point of this lawsuit, or, maybe more appropriately, these lawsuits? A class action on behalf of “all Armenians who had real estate holdings in Turkey”. . . seriously? This gives the impression that a group of opportunist individuals are filing suit, without due consideration of the consequences of losing. They are setting bad legal precedent, unfavorable publicity, and subjecting the Genocide to the whim of some person in a robe, or more likely his law clerk. On appeal, the judge’s “factual determinations” will likely be given deference, and further bad precedent will be set (this time in the 9th circuit).

    This isn’t a personal injury claim — has anyone informed these gentlemen of this fact.

  6. Alex Postallian said:

    Check her back pocket for a payoff.You know the jerkies turkeys are good on bribes.

  7. Gevorg said:

    “She ruled that the expropriation exception is also not valid because the property was not ‘taken in violation of international law’.”
    This judge must be demented. So the Turks stripping the property of our ancestors for no reason except for the fact that they are Armenian does not violate international law? What kind of a sick person would rule such a thing?

  8. hayro said:

    if you all are so keen on armenian this and armenian that, then what are you doing in usa ?
    you got a free armenia now, your land and country is independant,so try to strenghten armenia rather than u.s.courtrooms with your ideas and money
    u.s.a. will never in a million year care for this cause period
    look at the promises obama did before his first election and look at it now
    the only country or nation that gets and will get all the support is israel and that is it .because it is the last u.s. state and nobody else can deby this