By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
An unknown individual wearing black clothing from head to toe hung dozens of Turkish flags on the gates of two private Armenian schools in the Los Angeles area during the middle of the night last week.
The news spread like wildfire in the Armenian community as this was an unprecedented event. Given the long-standing antagonism between Armenians and Turks emanating from the 1915 Armenian Genocide, it was natural that most Armenians and elected officials attributed the flag incident to one or more Turkish individuals, calling it a hate crime!
The principals of the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School in Encino and AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park reported that the cameras on the perimeter of the schools recorded an individual in black clothing hanging Turkish flags on the outside gates of both schools, and in the case of Ferrahian, also on the stairway railings inside the school.
The reaction of the Armenian community was swift. A press conference was immediately organized by the coalition of the Armenian Genocide Committee, attended by dozens of Armenian and non-Armenian media, including several TV networks which covered the flag incident in their nightly news. All of them referred to the Armenian Genocide committed by Ottoman Turkey as the impetus for the vile hate crime on the Armenian schools.
Over a dozen elected officials condemned the attack on the Armenian schools:
— Cong. Frank Pallone
— Cong. Adam Schiff
— Cong. Brad Sherman
— California State Senator Anthony Portantino
— CA State Senator Henry Stern
— CA State Assembly member Laura Friedman,
— CA State Assembly member Jesse Gabriel
— CA State Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (Ferrahian school graduate)
— Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger
— Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
— LA City Attorney Mike Feuer
— LA City Council member Bob Blumenfield
— LA City Council member Paul Koretz
— LA City Council member Paul Krekorian
— LA Unified School District Board member Scott Schmerelson
— LAUSD Police Department
— Los Angeles Police Department
Several of these officials attended last week’s press conference and strongly condemned the attack on the schools. Cong. Sherman urged the FBI to investigate the incident as a hate crime. Los Angeles City Council member Paul Koretz described the incident as “the equivalent of putting a Nazi swastika on the side of a Jewish school.”
The principals of both schools held assemblies with their students reassuring them that all necessary precautions have been taken for their safety. Ferrahian students organized a march in the vicinity of the school, protesting against the Turkish vandalism, while holding Armenian tricolor flags. The Los Angeles Police Department intensified its patrol of all Armenian schools in the area to prevent the re-occurrence of a similar incident.
Two Ministries of the Republic of Armenia also issued statements condemning the attacks against the Armenian schools in the Los Angeles area. Arayik Harutyunyan, Minister of Education and Science, stated that the hanging of Turkish flags at the two Armenian schools “causes indignation, since such demonstration of hatred in our schools in our days is simply unacceptable and incomprehensible to the civilized world.” The Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia also condemned the hate crime against the Armenian schools “intended to discredit the Armenian Genocide.” The Ministry expressed its solidarity with the Armenian community: “We firmly condemn all actions based on hatred, intolerance, and illegality.”
Armen Baibourtian, Consul General of the Republic of Armenia in the Western United States, located in Glendale, California, also condemned the attack against the two schools: “The Consulate strongly condemns manifestations of hatred directed at the Armenian educational institutions and the entire Armenian Community in Los Angeles, sturdily supporting the common stance of the Los Angeles Armenian Community on this issue.” Also condemning the attack were several Armenian-American organizations. In addition, the Assyrian American Association of Southern California issued a statement calling the vandalism “a disgusting act of bigotry that was perpetrated to incite fear in these students and in the community at large. To both our communities, the Turkish flag represents more than just a flag. It is a symbol of oppression and genocide; a symbol of millions murdered, the children that were torn away from their families, the years of persecution our ancestors endured; and a symbol of outright, systematic denial of a dark history that created wounds still open to this very day.”
On the other hand, the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles called the incident “a defamation campaign against Turkey.” The Consulate also posted on its Facebook page a statement by the Association of Turkish Americans of Southern California (ATASC), claiming that “the Turkish American community has not been part of the deliberate provocation staged today in Los Angeles.” By describing the vandalism as a “deliberate provocation staged today,” ATASC is shamelessly implying that the vile act was committed by Armenians against their own schools!
This is the same baseless accusation made by several Turkish individuals on social media, further enraging the Armenian community. It is not surprising that the Turkish Association and the Turkish Consulate deny the involvement of a Turk in this incident. After all, when the Turkish government denies the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, it can easily deny a flag incident. Neither the Turkish Association nor the Turkish Consulate is in a position to know that not a single Turk was involved in this attack.
The Los Angeles Armenian community organizations, the Consulate General of Armenia, and the two Ministers of the Republic of Armenia acted swiftly and properly in condemning the attack on the two Armenian schools. The messages of solidarity expressed by over a dozen elected officials have reassured the community that the local, state and federal governments are seriously pursuing the suspects of the vandalism in conjunction with law enforcement officials. Such solidarity would hopefully preempt any further attacks on local Armenian schools and prevent their escalation. Under these circumstances, it would be unwise and unnecessary for Armenians to take matters into their own hands by staging a counter-attack against Turkish targets. Fortunately, law enforcement officials are professionally dealing with the incident. They will make public their findings as soon as they identify the perpetrators.