BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The Glendale-based nonprofit Center for Armenian Remembrance sued the U.S. Federal Reserve on March 4, seeking information on its acquisition of a large amount of Armenian gold looted by the Ottoman government in 1915.
CAR filed the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. The gold, originally valued at five million Turkish Gold Liras ($22 million dollars), is now estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently claimed that they have no records of any Armenian gold in their possession.
It was not easy to trace the circumstances under which the Armenian-owned gold was transferred from Istanbul to the United States almost a century ago. The results of our research on the convoluted series of transactions are summarized below:
The Ottoman government had seized the gold and other valuables belonging to Armenians deported and killed in the 1915 genocide, expropriating their bank accounts and safe deposit boxes. The Ottoman Liquidation Commission used a complex set of bank transfers to hide the trail of this “blood money.” The Turkish Treasury placed the looted Armenian gold initially in the German Deutschebank in Istanbul. In 1916, the gold was transferred to the Bleichroeder Bank in Vienna, and from there moved to the Reichsbank (German Central Bank) in Berlin, and deposited in the account of Ottoman Public Debt.
At the end of World War I, when the Allied Powers demanded reparations from Germany and its Ottoman Turkish ally, German officials had no choice but to comply with that request, agreeing to turn over to the Allies the Armenian gold held by the Reichsbank. Accordingly, the expropriated Armenian gold was transferred to France and Great Britain in 1921.
A subsequent British document confirms the true ownership of this gold. On September 26 1924, leaders of the two main opposition parties in Great Britain, Liberal Party leader and former Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Conservative Party leader and future Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald pleading for British assistance to Armenians in view of their support for the Allied cause and the great suffering they endured during World War I. The two British leaders argued that “the sum of 5 million pounds (Turkish gold) deposited by the Turkish Government in Berlin in 1916, and taken over by the Allies after the Armistice, was in large part (perhaps wholly) Armenian money. After the enforced deportation of the Armenians in 1915, their bank accounts, both current and deposit, were transferred by order to the State Treasury at Constantinople. This fact enabled the Turks to send five million sterling to the Reichsbank, Berlin, in exchange for a new issue of notes.”
Subsequently, instead of returning the Armenian gold to its original owners, Britain and France sold it to the United States Government through J.P. Morgan Bank in Paris, by exchanging it for U.S. Treasury Certificates.
On January 29, 1925, Senator William H. King submitted resolution 319 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee demanding that the looted gold be “set aside in trust” for Armenians. The resolution stated: “The Turkish Government had arbitrarily seized and transferred to the Turkish treasury all bank accounts, both current and deposit, belonging to Armenians, by which Armenian gold in the sum of 5 million Turkish pounds, amounting to $22,450,000, was transferred to the Turkish treasury, which gold was afterwards deposited by the Turkish Government in the Reichsbank at Berlin…. Said deposit of Armenian gold in the Reichsbank at Berlin was by article 259 of the Treaty of Versailles transferred and surrendered to the principal allied and associated powers, including the United States…. Said deposit in equity and right belongs to the Armenians from whom the same was seized, or to their legal representatives…. Said deposit should be set aside in trust to be hereafter paid over to the persons from whom said gold was seized, or to their lawful representatives….”
This gold is just a small portion of the billions of dollars of Armenian assets stolen by Turkey and various other countries during and after the Armenian Genocide. The restitution of all looted Armenian assets, wherever they may be, should be one of the highest priorities for those pursuing justice for the horrendous crimes committed against the Armenian nation.