The class-action lawsuit’s 12 plaintiffs have tentatively accepted the $20 million settlement with New York Life. The settlement would pay about $11 million to the heirs of some 2,400 policyholders. About $3 million would go to Armenian charitable organizations, with the remainder to be used for legal fees and costs. On Thursday, a federal judge is expected to decide whether to approve the agreement.
The settlement created a difference of opinion among the Armenian-American community. Some thought the agreement would satisfy the heirs of the Armenians in financial terms and would bring more recognition of the so-called Armenian genocide by the U.S. government.
"If we hadn’t done this, many Armenians would have been left out in the cold," one of the plaintiffs, Martin Marootian said, "at least this way they are getting some money."
However, others believe that the agreement short-changes the entire community.
"It’s a band-aid on a bullet wound," said Ardy Kassakhian, executive director of the western region offices of the Armenian National Committee of America, "it’s a very emotional subject for many Armenians."
"For $20 million they are buying silence and goodwill," said Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier, a weekly newspaper serving the estimated 100,000 Armenians in Southern California.
A full-page ad in the Courier urged readers to call for a jury trial that could lead to a larger monetary judgment. New York Life sold about 8,000 policies in the Ottoman Empire beginning in the 1880s, with less than half of those bought by Armenians.
The company stopped selling insurance in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. The company said it located about one-third of the policyholders’ descendants to pay benefits. The rest of the policies languished because the remaining heirs could not be found, company vice president William Werfelman said.
"The parties are confident that this is a fair, reasonable and adequate settlement that the judge should feel comfortable approving," he said.
Armenians claimed that the Ottoman Empire executed their ancestors for allegedly helping the invading Russian army during World War I. Turkey, heir of the Ottoman Empire, rejects the genocide claim, insisting that Armenians were killed in civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.