By Gilliani Flaccus, Associated Press Writer
(AP) - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal judge did not err in granting U.S. citizenship to two Armenian men who were convicted more than 20 years ago of planning to bomb the Turkish Consulate in Philadelphia.
Tuesday's decision ends a long battle by Viken Hovsepian and Viken Yacoubian, who plotted to bomb the consulate in retaliation for the massacre of Armenians by Turks in 1915. The Turkish government denies a massacre occurred.
The men, who have been out of prison since the early 1990s, now have doctorate degrees, have renounced violence and volunteer many hours a week in the Los Angeles Armenian-American community, said Mathew Millen, an attorney who helped handle the immigration portion of their case.
Under federal law, anyone convicted of an aggravated felony before November 1990 can be granted citizenship if they have been "of good moral character" for five years prior to their application, Millen said.
"They both renounced violence as a means of achieving any kind of political end," Millen said by phone. "They both have Ph.D.s and they had a lot of witnesses who talked about their activity in the community" at their immigration hearing.
The federal government fought the citizenship application because they alleged the men lied on certain portions of their applications. The 9th Circuit affirmed Tuesday a lower court opinion that the alleged "lies" were actually misunderstandings or oversights. "We accept the court's ruling, as we do with any ruling," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.
The men were in their early 20s when they and two others were arrested in 1982 after authorities tape-recorded them planning the bombing. Authorities at the time said they were linked to the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide. Hovsepian was sentenced to six years in prison in 1984, while Yacoubian was sentenced to three years in prison and 1,000 hours of community service.
Yacoubian is now principal of the Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Los Angeles' Little Armenia and has obtained a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Southern California, according to court documents. He declined to comment when reached by phone at the school. His attorney, Michael Lightfoot, did not immediately return calls Tuesday.
Hovsepian is now a hedge fund manager and speaks to youth groups about his experience and the importance of nonviolent protest, said his attorney, Barry Litt. "He's a very different person than the person he was in the early 1980s," Litt said of his client. "He's a contributing member (of society)."
Tuesday's decision marks the end of a complex case that began almost as soon as the men were released from prison. The men applied for citizenship in 1997 but then sued to have their cases decided by a federal judge when immigration officials didn't rule on their applications within 120 days, Millen said. In 2001, the same judge who presided at the men's 1984 trial opted to administer the oath of citizenship after reviewing their files.
But last year, the 9th Circuit ordered U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer to reconsider the case after including in her review evidence from the bomb plot, which had previously been under seal. Pfaelzer again ruled in favor of citizenship, saying the men had "completely reformed," but the federal government appealed on grounds the men lied in portions of their applications.
The FBI has said the bomb plot, in which five sticks of dynamite were flown to Boston, could have killed thousands of people.