Armenia

Glendale, California’s William Stepanyan to plead guilty to hate crime; Armenia, Turkey ready to reconcile?

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William Stepanyan, 23, of Glendale, California, United States agreed to plead to one count of conspiracy and one hate crime charge on September 8, 2021. He will appear in court in the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles on November 16, 2020.

Stepanyan, who is of Armenian descent, will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison after he enters the guilty pleas to the two felony offenses. When a new war broke out between military forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan in September 2020, tensions in Turkish and Armenian communities escalated and he was personally affected.

On November 4, 2020, Stepanyan sent a text message saying that he planned to go hunting for Turks. Later that day, he met with a group of Armenian-Americans including Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, 24, of Tujunga, California to protest what they considered to be Turkish aggression against Armenians.

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The group drove to the Café Istanbul, a family-owned Turkish restaurant in Los Angeles, California. While wearing masks, Stepanyan and Chalikyan allegedly shouted derogatory slurs about Turkish people and attacked five people, four of whom are of Turkish descent.

After the victims escaped, Stepanyan and Chalikyan allegedly continued to destroy the restaurant, which suffered at least $20,000 in damage. Because of the damage, the restaurant had to close temporarily, resulting in thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

On November 12, 2020, he was arrested in Glendale and charged with hate crime, robbery and burglary. Chalikyan has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and five hate crime charges and is scheduled to go on trial on October 26, 2021.

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Also on September 8, 2021, Armenia prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, 46, said that recent comments from Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 67, represented an opportunity for a conversation on settling relations. Since the 1990s, the border Armenia and Turkey shared has been closed and the two countries never established diplomatic ties.

The conflict was exacerbated by Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan when the latter fought a six-week war against Armenia. Around 6,500 people were killed during the war before a cease-fire was brokered by Russia.

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