LOS ANGELES (AP)—Armenian-American lawyers filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Turkish government and two banks seeking compensation for the heirs of Armenians whose property was allegedly seized as they were driven from during the Armenian Genocide.
Lawyers were seeking class-action status for the suit, a process that attorney Brian Kabatek said could take as long as three years.
“We are rolling up our sleeves and are going forward,” he said.
The suit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Garbis Davouyan of Los Angeles and Hrayr Turabian of Queens, N.Y. It alleges breach of statutory trust, unjust enrichment, human rights violations and violations of international law.
It seeks compensation for land, buildings and businesses allegedly seized from Armenians along with bank deposits and property, including priceless religious and other artifacts, some of which are now housed in museums in the Republic of Turkey.
Attorney Mark Geragos said it was the first such lawsuit directly naming the government of the Republic of Turkey as a defendant.
“All of the lawyers involved have relatives who perished or fled the Armenian genocide, which gives it a special poignancy for us,” he said.
Also named in the lawsuit were the Central Bank of Turkey and T.C., Ziraat Bankasi, the largest and oldest Turkish bank with origins dating back to the 1860s.
The lawsuit claims the government of Turkey agreed to administer the property, collect rents and sale proceeds from the seized assets and deposit the receipts in trust accounts until the property could be restored to owners.
Instead, the government has “withheld the property and any income derived from such property,” the lawsuit said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs believe records of the properties and profits still exist, and they are seeking an accounting that could reach billions of dollars.
Geragos said the biggest issue in Armenian communities is seeking recognition of the Genocide.