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Glendale Man Gets Five Years of Prison Time For Hate Crime At a Turkish Cafe in Beverly Hills

11:00 AM PST on March 8, 2022

photo: Jason Leung/Unsplash

Back in November 2020, when the former Soviet states of Azerbaijan and Armenia were again at war with one another, two L.A.-based men decided to take their rage out on a Turkish restaurant in Beverly Hills, assaulting five diners, yelling ethnic slurs, and trashing the place, in an attempt to make some kind of a statement about... something.

Today we learn more about the men and their motivations, as both have been slapped with federal prison time, as well as steep fines in restitution to the aggrieved business and victims.

Glendale's William Stepanyan, 23, and Tujunga's Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, 24, plead guilty last fall to a hate crime charge and a charge of conspiracy, landing Stepanyan a five-year federal sentence and Chalikyan fifteen months. The two will also have to pay $21,200 to pay for the damage they caused, which included causing one victim to lose feeling in his legs and collapse numerous times.

On the day of the attack, amid a tense atmosphere of protests, outspoken patriotism, and clashes between supporters of the two countries along L.A.'s avenues, Stepanyan texted out a message that he was going "hunting for Turks," upset over Turkey's role in backing Azerbaijan in the border conflict.

That evening, Stepanyan and Chalikyan drove to Cafe Istanbul in Beverly Hills as part of a group of nine people planning to demonstrate outside of the restaurant, which they perceived to be a visible symbol of Turkey in Los Angeles.

At some point after arriving, Stepanyan and Chalikyan charged into the restaurant, destroyed a plexiglass barrier, and started smashing glasses, overturning tables, and throwing wooden chairs at customers while asking if the victims were Turkish, and threatening "we came to kill you!" Among other slurs and threats.

Stepanyan also tore out the restaurant's computer terminals and stole an iPhone from one of the victims, four of five of whom come from Turkey.

In a release that went out yesterday from The Department of Justice, assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, "The defendants violently attacked people inside a family-owned restaurant because of their perceived nationality. Such violence based on national origin has no place in our society."

“The physical injuries and emotional trauma to the victims cannot be understated," said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. "We hope that the sentences handed down today will help vindicate those harms."

Currently, Russia's illegal, immoral invasion of Ukraine has New York business owners reporting an uptick in vandalism and slurs against Russians or those perceived to be Russian, which is especially tricky ground to tread given the generations of intermixing of Ukrainian and Russian families and culture.

Reports of such aggression in L.A. are yet to be reported, despite similar foggy ground, where your favorite Slavic deli named for Ukraine might be actually owned by a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian, and what is labeled a "Russian restaurant" could very well be owned by a Jewish couple from Odessa.

Either way, hate crimes in Los Angeles reached a national high last year, with the majority of documented attacks targeting the city's Black residents and visitors. In Northern California, record numbers of attacks have targeted Asians and Asian-Americans. And in New York, Jewish residents have been faced with the majority of rising hate crimes.

Conflicts and disasters abroad can make us feel powerless, no less when it's happening in a place we care about but can do little about in person. Too often, this feeling results in senseless provocations and violence that leaves innocent people hurt who have nothing to do with the situation. A similar atmosphere lingers here now.

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