Two Los Angeles men pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges for 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 entered their pleas to conspiracy and a hate crime count. The two felony offenses together carry a sentence of up to 15 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson set sentencing in Los Angeles federal court for Feb. 7.
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.
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.
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.
The restaurant reported at least $20,000 in damage and had to close temporarily.