Martin Marootian, plaintiff in suit over Armenian genocide, dies at 95

Martin Marootian, a retired pharmacist who stood up for Armenian genocide victims as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that resulted in a $20-million settlement from New York Life Insurance Co., has died. He was 95. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Martin Marootian, a retired pharmacist who stood up for Armenian genocide victims as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that resulted in a $20-million settlement from New York Life Insurance Co., has died. He was 95. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT) (Mct)
By Elaine Woo
Monday, March 14, 2011; 12:21 PM

Martin Marootian, a retired pharmacist who stood up for Armenian genocide victims as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that resulted in a $20 million settlement from New York Life Insurance Co. for failing to honor claims on policies sold to thousands of Armenians slain during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, died Feb. 25 at his home in San Diego.

He was 95. The cause of death was not reported.

In 1999, Mr. Marootian joined a legal battle to force New York Life to honor policies purchased by more than 2,000 Armenians, most of whom perished in what some historians have described as the first genocide of the 20th century.

From 1915 to 1923, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Turks, who ruled the Ottoman Empire until its dissolution after World War I. Many of the Armenians were executed, and others died on forced marches into the desert.

The cause of their deaths has long been disputed by the Turkish government, which has maintained that the Armenians were casualties of war, not targets of persecution.

Some Armenians, including Mr. Marootian, saw the battle with New York Life as an opportunity to win official acknowledgment of the suffering of genocide victims and their heirs.

Mr. Marootian "was not interested in . . . money but in the restitution of Armenian history," said Vartkes Yeghiayan, the Glendale, Calif., lawyer who spearheaded the lawsuit. "He was one of my heroes."

Born in New York on Oct. 19, 1915, Mr. Marootian grew up in Connecticut and Rhode Island. He worked as a bartender to pay his way through pharmacy school in Connecticut and graduated in 1939. During World War II, he served with an Army medical unit in the South Pacific.

After the war, he married Seda Garapedian. In 1955, they settled in Pasadena, Calif. Over the next several decades, he worked at pharmacies in Pasadena and Glendale. He and his wife lived near downtown Los Angeles for more than 35 years.

His wife died in 2007. Survivors include two daughters; two sisters; and a grandson.

Mr. Marootian was a student of Armenian history who took part in annual commemorations of genocide victims. He treasured a 1905 family portrait of 11 relatives, including his uncle, Setrak Cheytanian, who in 1910 purchased a policy with New York Life. Of the 11, the only two who survived the massacre were his mother, Yegsa, and his older sister, Alice.

His mother died in 1982. Part of her legacy was an old shoe box containing the original copy of her brother Setrak's New York Life policy, all the premium payment stubs and correspondence with the insurance company that documented her repeated attempts to collect on the policy.


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