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Armenian American pair get prison for rampage at Turkish restaurant in Beverly Hills

The men went "hunting for Turks" because of Turkey's support for Azerbaijan in its 2020 conflict with Armenia.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge sentenced two Armenian American men to five years and 15 months, respectively, for their part in a November 2020 rampage at a family-owned Turkish restaurant in Beverly Hills.

William Stepanyan, 23, and Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, 24, were part of a group of Armenian Americans who drove to Beverly Hills to go "hunting for Turks," as Stepanyan said in a text message. They were angry over Turkey's support for Azerbaijan during the 2020 conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

At the restaurant, the assailants threw chairs at a group of people they believed to be of Turkish descent, yelled at them "we came to kill you," and threw over tables and smashed glasses. Five people suffered injuries in the attack and the restaurant sustained $20,000 in damage, according to prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in LA.

"By attacking a family-run business simply because of the ancestry of its owners, the defendants wanted to send a message of hate that echoed beyond the restaurant’s walls," according to the prosecution's sentencing memorandum.

The pair pleaded guilty to conspiring to attack the restaurant and to committing a hate crime in 2021.

"This is case where the deterrence is first and foremost," U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson said at a sentencing hearing Monday, citing the long-standing animosity between the Armenian and Turkish community going back to the genocide committed against Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. "It has to be sufficient to deter others."

The sentences Wilson imposed fell well below the 84 months for Stepanyan and 57 months for Chalikyan requested by prosecutors.

The government sought a stiffer sentence against Stepanyan because of his criminal record. He had already amassed three prior criminal convictions, including for assault with a deadly weapon, and has shown a proclivity for violence, according to the prosecution.

The restaurant's owner said in victim-impact statement filed in court that he and his wife, both immigrants from Turkey, were about to close the restaurant after a quiet Wednesday evening when the group showed up outside and started throwing over the sidewalk chairs and tables.

Stepanyan and Chalikyan then stormed into the restaurant and assaulted them, he said.

"At first, my wife, employees and I were in shock, as we did not understand and could not make sense of what was happening amidst the chaotic yelling and violence," the owner wrote. "We all suddenly woke up to the reality that our lives were in danger — that this were really happening."

The owner described how Stepanyan threw a chair into his back as they were fleeing the restaurant through the emergency exit, only to be met outside with more abuse from the rest of the Armenian group. They then ran into a neighboring apartment complex where they were let in by a resident.

Stepanyan's lawyer, Kenneth Reed, asked the judge to sentence his client to a "low 40s" number of months in prison, saying that no one had been seriously injured in the attack and that Stepanyan had suffered from an undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder, which was responsible for his alcohol dependence and his violent behavior while intoxicated.

"What they did was dumb. What they did was criminal," Reed said. "People do things as a group they would never do as an individual."

Chalikyan's lawyer, Garo Hagopian, asked for his client to be sentenced to home confinement, arguing that he wasn't a violent man, didn't have a criminal record and had never met Stepanyan before the day of the attack.

According to Hagopian, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, where a lot of young Armenian were getting killed daily, had affected the Armenian diaspora deeply and emotions had boiled over under the influence of alcohol.

"I'm sorry for what I did," Chalikyan told the judge. "It happened in the heat of the moment."

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Categories / Criminal, Regional

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