Turkey Interferes in Lawsuit Against German Banks on Genocide Assets
By Harut Sassounian Publisher, The California Courier
Defying all acceptable legal norms, Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S., Nabi Sensoy, recently sent a highly inappropriate letter to U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow (Federal Court), asking her to dismiss a lawsuit by Armenian plaintiffs against the German Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank. A copy of this previously undisclosed letter was obtained by this writer. In a class action lawsuit, filed by Yeghiayan & Associates ; Kabateck, Brown, Kellner, and Geragos & Geragos, Armenian plaintiffs had accused the two German banks of concealing and preventing the recovery of assets which were deposited by Armenians in these banks "prior to World War I and the Armenian Genocide." The plaintiffs had further alleged that the banks "accepted looted assets, forcibly taken by the government of the Ottoman Turkey during World War I and the Armenian Genocide."
Ever since the filing of this lawsuit in 2004 (amended in 2006), these German banks have done everything possible to have it dismissed. They have challenged the constitutionality of the law passed by the California Legislature which extended the Statute of Limitations and created standing for plaintiffs to sue the German banks and other institutions until 2016. In their attempt to counter the charge that they are the beneficiaries of ill-gotten gains, the German banks, through their legal counsel, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, have claimed that the California law "is an unconstitutional encroachment on the federal government’s exclusive power over foreign affairs."
It now appears that in order to back up their claim, the German banks have succeeded in getting Turkey to instruct its ambassador to the U.S. to send a letter to the Judge Morrow telling her that the District Court is interfering in a matter involving U.S.-Turkish relations. This modern-day German-Turkish collaboration reminds one of the alliance forged some 90 years ago between the German and Turkish governments during the Armenian Genocide. By reviving this unholy union, the German banks hope to keep their "loot," while the Turkish government can continue to cover up the genocide and attempt to preempt any future claims against Turkey itself.
However, the German banks and the Turkish government apparently were oblivious to the fact that by writing a letter directly to the Federal Judge, the Turkish ambassador was interfering in a judicial process to which the Turkish side is not a legal party. It is noteworthy that the Turkish Ambassador’s letter, dated February 23, 2007, came on the heels of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s latest visit to Washington, leading one to speculate that the Ambassador may have been pressured into this improper act by his political superiors, possibly against the advice of his American attorneys. It is noteworthy that, during the court hearing on February 27, 2007, the German banks’ attorney disclosed that David Saltzman, the attorney for the Turkish Embassy, had been in close communication with him for several years since the lawsuit was first filed.
In his letter to Judge Morrow, Amb. Sensoy wrote : "I am deeply concerned that the plaintiffs have asked you to sit in judgment on Turkey’s sovereign acts carried out within its territory, from which I would request that you refrain. Specifically, the plaintiffs have made allegations that require this court to delve into whether there was a governmental plan to commit crimes against Armenians living in the late Ottoman Empire, including the looting of property. The plaintiffs have made clear that they wish their allegations to span the demise of the Ottoman Empire and carry over into modern Turkey. For example, the plaintiffs allege that the Armenian tragedy extended from 1915 to 1923, insinuating that any wrongful acts that contributed to it are not only the responsibility of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor state, but also its successor, Republic of Turkey, which was founded in 1923."
The Turkish ambassador then unabashedly offered the Judge his embassy’s services as an unimpeachable source for documentation on the Armenian Genocide ! "My embassy places itself at your disposal to provide references to scholarly works that disagree with the current orthodoxy that the Armenian tragedy ought to be termed genocide," the letter said.
Amb. Sensoy then chastised Judge Morrow by instructing her that her "use of the term ‘Armenian Genocide,’ is inappropriate." He said he was unhappy that in her September 11 opinion, the Judge had made a reference to the "Historical Background of the Armenian Genocide." He also accused the Judge of "being an advocate of one side in a genuine historic controversy...."
In response to this unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of the court, the attorneys for the Armenian side — the plaintiffs — filed an affidavit with the court on March 7, 2007, that stated : "The letter from the Turkish Ambassador is replete with inaccuracies and erroneous suppositions.... The Republic of Turkey is not a party to this lawsuit, nor has it appeared in any capacity in such a way to allow it any voice in this process.... There is no legal justification for this Court to consider any position presented by the Republic of Turkey in this case. Accordingly, Plaintiffs recommend that the Court disregard the Turkish Ambassador’s letter."
On the other hand, the attorneys for the German banks — the defendants - claimed in their affidavit that the Turkish ambassador’s letter was "relevant evidence." Not surprisingly, the defendants used that letter to buttress their allegation that the lawsuit could have to "negative implications" on U.S. relations with Turkey. They claimed that the Turkish ambassador’s letter demonstrates that the court’s consideration of “the degree of Turkey’s culpability for its treatment of Armenians during the WWI period implicate[s] sensitive foreign policy concerns between the United States and Turkey even to this date."
While the Turkish government’s intent in sending such a letter to the Judge may have been to defend its interests, it may actually result in the following unintended and detrimental consequences for Turkey :
1) The Ambassador’s unwarranted interference in the affairs of a U.S. Federal Court could result in the Judge not only rejecting his unsolicited intervention but also negatively disposing her towards the German banks for their possible role in orchestrating that letter ;
2) Should the judge reject the letter, her ruling would imply that a straightforward case of seeking the return of Armenian assets held by German banks, would become, as the Turkish ambassador himself stated, a legal case with far reaching consequences for the Turkish side, including the reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide by a U.S. Federal Court and holding today’s Republic of Turkey responsible for the losses suffered by genocide victims. Once again, by its emotional over-reaction to all issues dealing with the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish government may have shot itself in the foot !
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