Guilty pleas are expected today from two Los Angeles men accused of attacking diners at a family-owned Turkish restaurant while shouting anti-Turkish slurs, hurling chairs at the victims and threatening to kill them.
William Stepanyan and Harutyun Chalikyan both agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and a hate crime count. After they enter their pleas to the two felony offenses, the defendants will each face up to 15 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Turkey and Armenia have a long history of conflict, part of which has stemmed from Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan in its border conflict with Armenia. When a new war broke out between Armenian and Azeri military forces in September 2020, tensions in Turkish and Armenian communities escalated worldwide, including in the United States. Numerous protests and counter protests, pitting individuals of Armenian and Turkish descent against one another, took place in Los Angeles County.
According to his plea agreement, on Nov. 4 last year, Stepanyan, 23, who is Armenian-American and lives in Glendale, sent a text message saying that he planned to go “hunting” for Turks. Later that day, Stepanyan met with 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.
Stepanyan, Chalikyan and various unindicted accomplices drove to the restaurant in Beverly Hills, where the defendants stormed inside. Stepanyan and Chalikyan, who were both wearing masks during the attack, flung chairs at the victims while shouting derogatory slurs about Turkish people, according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court. 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!” according to the DOJ.
During the attack, multiple victims were injured, including one individual who lost feeling in their legs and collapsed multiple times due to the injury. Also, during the attack, Stepanyan ripped out the restaurant’s computer terminals and stole a victim’s iPhone, according to the DOJ. The restaurant reported at least $20,000 in damage and had to close temporarily, resulting in thousands of dollars in lost revenue.