(AFP) - The heirs of victims of the 1915 Turkish massacre of Armenians have agreed to settle a class action lawsuit against French insurer Axa for $17 million, lawyers said Wednesday.
The lawsuit, filed in a California court, accused Axa of failing to pay death benefits for the insurance policies purchased by Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire prior to the genocide in which up to 1.5 million people were killed.
"This is an example where dead men can't speak but they can file lawsuits," said Vartkes Yeghiayan. "It writes another chapter about persistence and hope. The resolution of the case helps the healing process."
Under the terms of the deal, announced in Los Angeles, Axa will donate at least $3 million to various French-based Armenian charities and another $11 million towards a fund designed to pay out policyholders of Axa units that did business in the now defunct Turkish-run Ottoman Empire.
"Certain of these policyholders and beneficiaries were among the 1.5 million Armenians who perished and were unable to obtain their insurance proceeds in the ensuing chaos," lawyers for the victims' descendants said in a statement.
The Axa settlement follows a similar agreement with New York Life Insurance Company in early 2004 under which it agreed to pay $20 million.
"The AXA and New York Life settlements are important building blocks not only toward seeking financial recovery for the losses resulting from the Armenian Genocide but also in our ultimate goal, which is for Turkey and the US to officially acknowledge the genocide," said U.S. celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos.
Geragos, who has represented stars including Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, is of Armenian descent. "These cases are historical because they are the only cases ever brought on behalf of genocide survivors," he said.
No comment was immediately available from Axa.
The settlement, subject to court approval, will be administered in France, which was one of the first countries to recognize the Armenian genocide.