Group of Armenian Americans damaged Turkish American restaurant, the DOJ contends.
William Stepanyan, 23, of Glendale, California, has pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ accused Stepanyan of attacking five victims at a family-owned Turkish restaurant while “shouting anti-Turkish slurs, hurling chairs at the victims and threatening to kill them,” according to Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the agency’s Civil Rights Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison of the Central District of California. Stepanyan was charged with “one count of conspiracy and one hate crime charge,” according to court documents.
Records show that on November 4, 2020, Stepanyan, who is Armenian-American, sent a text message to a group of his friends stating he “planned to go hunting for [T]urks.” Later that same day, Stepanyan met with his co-defendant Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, 24, of Tujunga, and other Armenian-Americans to “protest what they considered to be Turkish aggression against Armenians, express their contempt for Turkey and show their support for Armenia,” the DOJ complaint explained. They came up with a plan to carry this out.
Turkey and Armenia are bordering countries in Asia, and they have historically experienced significant conflict with one another. For decades, the border between Turkey and Armenia has been closed. Turkey closed it in 1993 as a gesture of solidarity with Azerbaijan. Although there has been some optimism that the feud will eventually subside, a truce between the two sides seems like a long shot and is not likely to happen anytime soon. There is also some concern that Russia’s involvement would complicate matters.
This is especially true since, on April 24th, Democratic President Joe Biden formally declared the killings and deportations of over a million Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915-1917 to have been “a genocide,” and the sentiments evoked a new onslaught of tensions between the two parties. Turkey’s foreign ministry called Biden’s statement “a vulgar distortion of history,” but the comments resonated on both sides.
“Stepanyan, Chalikyan and other Armenian-Americans then drove to the restaurant, where Stepanyan and Chalikyan stormed into the restaurant and attacked the victims inside,” the complaint states. “Stepanyan and Chalikyan, who were both wearing masks during the attack, flung chairs at the victims while shouting derogatory slurs about Turkish people. Four of the five victims were of Turkish descent. At least one of the defendants threatened to kill the victims, shouting: ‘We came to kill you! We will kill you!’”
Stepanyan and his crew managed to do “at least $20,000 in damage” to the restaurant during the attack, and before leaving, “Stepanyan ripped out the restaurant’s computer terminals and stole a victim’s iPhone,” the complaint states. They also injured multiple people.
Stepanyan will face a statutory maximum sentence of fifteen years in federal prison. Chalikyan is scheduled to go on trial at the end of October and has so far pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and five hate crime charges. There is no word yet whether the other parties involved face similar charges.
California Man Agrees to Plead Guilty in Federal Hate Crime Case for Attacking Family-Owned Restaurant and Making Death Threats