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26 Marzo - Turkish Banks Not Immune from Suit in U.S. Courts for Taking of Property of ‎Armenian Genocide Victims
The federal court building in Los Angeles.‎
On March 26, 2013, a U.S. federal district court in Los Angeles sided ‎with Armenian plaintiffs in a hard-fought case involving reparations for land ‎seized from Armenians in Turkey during the Armenian Genocide. Nearly 15 ‎months after the Turkish Central Bank and T.C. Ziraat Bankasi, a state-owned ‎agricultural bank, asserted sovereign immunity and asked the court to dismiss ‎the lawsuit, the court in a landmark decision determined that the Banks can ‎be held to answer for the alleged expropriation of property of Ottoman and ‎Turkish nationals when the taking is incident to mass human rights abuses, ‎including genocide.‎
‎ The lawsuit, filed by three descendants of Armenian Genocide victims ‎in December 2010 under named plaintiff Alex Bakalian, Case Number 2:10-‎cv-09596, names as defendants the Republic of Turkey, the Central Bank of ‎Turkey, and T.C. Ziraat Bankasi. The complaint accuses the defendants of ‎stealing and then profiting from land that was illegally seized during the ‎Armenian Genocide, when the Ottoman Turks drove Armenians from the ‎Adana region of southern Turkey. The Republic of Turkey never appeared in ‎the case despite being validly served with the complaint. ‎
The recent decision also applies to a related case, styled as a purported ‎class action under named class representative Garbis Davoyan, Case Number ‎‎2:10-cv-05636. The Banks filed similar motions to dismiss in both cases and ‎the court issued a joint opinion focused on the facts alleged in Davoyan and ‎the separate arguments developed by the two sets of plaintiffs.‎
Following long-established rules of immunity recognized by all nations, ‎U.S. law abrogates the immunity from suit in U.S. courts that is traditionally ‎afforded to foreign states and their agencies and instrumentalities in a few ‎limited situations. The court was not persuaded by arguments that the Banks ‎were not immune from suit because the allegations concerned commercial ‎activity with a connection to the United States. The court also rejected an ‎argument pursued by the Davoyan plaintiffs that the expropriation exception ‎to the immunity rule applied because the plaintiffs’ ancestors had effectively ‎been stripped of their Ottoman nationality at the time of the taking. Rather, ‎the court adopted the Bakalianplaintiffs’ argument that focused on the well-‎developed body of human rights law that has emerged in recent decades and ‎argued successfully that international law is violated even when a state ‎expropriates the property of its own nationals, if the taking occurs in the ‎context of massive human rights abuses. This decision is in line with those of ‎other federal courts around the country, as well as human rights treaties that ‎Turkey has signed and ratified.‎
Although the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case is now established, the ‎court ultimately determined that both cases should be dismissed because they ‎presented political questions. That issue is now subject to appeal before the ‎Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.‎


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