Mark Geragos Speaks at St. James Men’s Club

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By Nancy Kalajian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

WATERTOWN — Attorney Mark Geragos, the featured speaker on Monday, May 6, at the monthly dinner meeting of the Men’s Club of St. James Armenian Church of Watertown, MA drew an audience of over 500 men and women. The noted criminal defense attorney spoke about his new book, Armenian heritage, current events and the successful lawsuits against New York Life Insurance and AXA Corp. for claims on insurance policies issued to Armenians before the Armenian Genocide.

To help raise funds for their non-profit group, SOAR (the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief) volunteers set up an informational booth and sold scores of copies of Mistrial: An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works…and Sometimes Doesn’t, a new book co-authored by Mark Geragos and Pat Harris. Quite accommodating to guests queued up to have him autograph their books and pose for pictures, it looked as though Mr. Geragos was with his extended family and friends as he smiled, hugged, and warmly shook hands with an admiring fan club.

Middlesex County Sherriff Peter Koutoujian served as the master of ceremonies during the program and in his introduction reflected on the recent Marathon bombings saying, “We were Boston, Watertown and Armenian strong.” He described SOAR as a group that provides humanitarian relief to orphan children in Armenia, and introduced George Yacubian, SOAR founder and National President, who spoke about its mission, accomplishments and growth from its creation in 2006 to current 37 chapters mainly in the USA but even reaching out to Yerevan, Moscow and Berlin. Garo Arakelian of the SOAR Boston chapter also spoke.

 

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After Mr. Koutoujian’s introduction, the audience stood up to cheer Mark Geragos who quickly took to the podium giving credit to “Watertown as the original Glendale” and deflating self-interest, humorously wondering if the $12. dinner deal promoted by Bob Semonian (Chairman of the Speaker’s Committee of the St. James Men’s Club) was what attracted so many people to the Monday night dinner. From covering current events ranging from the Boston-Watertown area to those in California, he covered a lot of ground. He shared his thoughts on the mysterious Mischa – described by a relative of Marathon bombing suspects as an Armenian (Christian) who converted to Islam – and the insensitivity of such a statement coming to light during a time when Armenians commemorate the Armenian Genocide, and where so many Armenians live in Watertown where the bombing suspects were caught.

 

As he grew up, Geragos was surprised how little people knew about the genocide. Geragos shared the influence of William Saroyan’s meaningful words about Armenians that are printed in a poster in his office. On a personal level, he shared that his dad was also a lawyer. Seeming pretty down to earth and frank, he shared that on one occasion, he received a call to represent a certain person and came home and mentioned it to his daughter who explained who that well-known person was; it drives him crazy to be called a “celebrity lawyer.”

Regarding recent lawsuits relating to insurance policies issued to Armenians before the Armenian Genocide, he described the great effort and steps involved in documenting the insured, finding heirs, and how one insurance company marketed to Armenians and Syrians; his research found that about 40 percent of policies issued to Armenians had no claims at all since no descendants were left.

The word “genocide” is controversial, Gergaos stated, and he spoke about the importance of reparations. As he completed his talk, audience members gave him another standing ovation. During the question and answer period, he suggested a few ideas for creating awareness of Armenians and issues of importance: developing candidates for political office, and engaging the media.

Many guests stayed long after the official program was over to engage in conversation and share their impressions of the night’s guest speaker. “Mark Geragos is a leading advocate of the Armenian ethnic group. I don’t think there’s a finer representation of what our agenda should be on a larger scale; reparations should be our priority issue.” said Bob Avakian.

George Khorikian concurred, “I feel proud to be an Armenian. It’s good there is someone backing Armenian causes.”

At 18, Ani Hollisian may have been one of the youngest people in the audience but as an aspiring lawyer, she was greatly impressed. ” I loved his speech. It was short and to the point. He didn’t use lawyer jargon so it was easy to follow him. He fights for Armenian causes.” Attorney Richard Tarvezian agreed. “I was thoroughly impressed. He was entertaining, knowledgeable, and extremely competent. I’m proud to have him representing us.”

Not only did this meeting have the largest attendance of any Men’s Club dinner meeting ever held but the design of many food stations helped ensure that most guests didn’t have to wait too long to eat a tasty traditional homemade losh and kheyma dinner with pilaf and salad.

 

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