BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
“It is the equivalent of putting a Nazi swastika on the side of a Jewish school.” This is how Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz described the hanging of Turkish flags on Tuesday morning on the premises of the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School in Encino and the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park, which law enforcement officials are calling a hate crime and a hate incident.
Koretz, whose district includes the Ferrahian school, was speaking at a press conference on Tuesday evening at the school’s Avedissian Hall, organized by the Armenian Genocide Committee, a grouping of more than 18 community organizations and churches, which has been working together since 2015, primarily to organize the March for Justice for the Armenian Genocide protests at the Turkish Consulate on April 24.
More than 200 community activists, school faculty, staff and students, representatives of organizations and churches, as well as city and law enforcement officials came together Tuesday evening to be briefed on the incidents, which sent shockwaves through the community and created unease and concern on the campuses of two prominent Armenian schools in the Los Angeles area.
Officials of Ferrahian and Manoogian-Demirdjian schools arrived at the school premises early Tuesday morning to find the buildings covered with Turkish flags. The administrations at both schools immediately went into action to first protect the safety of the student bodies and also report the incidents, which, upon investigation, were being treated as hate crimes by the Los Angeles Police Department. Things were back to normal at both schools on Wednesday morning, as the community was attempting make sense of this brazen violation and attack.
Addressing the community Tuesday evening, Captain Ernest Eskridge, the commanding office of the LAPD West Valley Division reported that the incidents took place almost two hours apart from one another, the first at around 2:30 a.m. at the Manoogian-Demirdjian location and the second at around 4 a.m. at Ferrahian. He said the LAPD and a special task force are working around the clock to ensure safety at the schools and have initiated special procedures to monitor both locations around the clock. The LAPD, according to Eskridge, is also working with the Glendale Police Department for further intelligence. He said school surveillance videos as well as images from city cameras were being carefully studied to identify the suspects of what he called “a serious crime.”
“We are truly committed to make sure this community, the Armenian community is safe,” said Eskridge, who also applauded school for their response to these incidents.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, while unequivocally condemning the incidents, also applauded the schools for making what had happened into a teachable moment for the students and to drive home the message of rejecting intolerance.
“Those who suffered through, who endured the Armenian Genocide, view the placement of Turkish flags, at a school of all places, as an affront—an assault—particularly when the Turkish government continues to refuse to acknowledge the Genocide, and to use that term,” said Feuer.
“I applaud the school for using this as a moment to teach our kids. This is the time for our children to recognize not only the significance of the Genocide, but what it means to be one community, where we reach out to each other, when we stand up for one another,” added Feuer.
“Let’s teach our kids that we can be one community. Let’s teach all adults that the Genocide happened, and let’s make sure no one is allowed to tear us apart. That’s why we are here,” commented Feuer.
Echoing Koretz’s sentiments and anger, LA City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who represents the area where the Manoogian-Demirdjian is located, expressed solidarity with the community and pledged the City Council’s resources in attaining justice for this crime.
A flag is a flag, but when someone puts it on an Armenian school, that’s an attempt to intimidate. We cannot stand for that. We stand here in solidarity,” said Blumenfield.
Ferrahian Principal Sossi Shanlian and Manoogian-Demirdjian Principal Arpi Avanessian both spoke at the event, which had attracted a significant portion of the Los Angeles press corps. Also present at the event were Bishop Torkom Donoyan, Vicar-General of the Prelacy of Armenian Apostolic Church, Holy Martyrs parish priest Rev. Razmig Khachadourian, and Lisa Gaboudian the chairperson of the Board of Regents of the Prelacy Armenian Schools.
The press conference was being moderated by Nora Hovsepian, the chairperson of Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region, which is part of the AGC. In her remarks, she reminded the audience that the schools were founded more than five decades ago by survivors of the Armenian Genocide to ensure the preservation of a culture and identity that Turkey attempted to extinguish through the Armenian Genocide.
Monday’s incident drew wide condemnation from federal, state and local officials, who issued statements calling for justice and advocating tolerance.
Rep. Brad Sherman, who represents both schools in Congress, called on law enforcement agencies to make it a high priority to arrest the vandals responsible for the incident. He also suggested that the incidents may constitute a violation of federal hate crime laws, and as such, he pledged to urge the F.B.I. to prosecute the crimes “to the full extent of the law.”
“I strongly condemn this hateful act of vandalism. It is particularly cruel to those whose family members died in the Armenian Genocide,” said Sherman in a statement.
“These schools are attended by many descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, and I stand with the Armenian community in condemning this act of hate,” said a statement posted by Rep. Adam Schiff on his Facebook page.
In a Twitter post, Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said hanging of the flags “were clearly meant to be a hateful, direct threat against the children taught within them. The perpetrator of this crime must be brought to justice by the LAPD.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti condemned the attack in a statement saying, “Every child has a right to attend school without fear. The Armenian-American community deserves to know who is behind any act of intimidation, and I know that LAPD will not stop working until we discover who did this.”
In a statement, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Krekorian called the incident a “grotesque orchestrated attack.”
“Both the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School and the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School are vital parts of the Southern California Armenian-American community. These two schools have long provided sanctuaries of safety, education, culture and dream-building for thousands of young students, and they are institutions that are cherished by parents and educators, and our entire community, including my own family,” said Krekorian.
“This grotesque orchestrated attack on these schools is a disgusting act of hate, designed to terrorize children and an entire community. The City of Los Angeles will treat these cowardly and hateful acts extremely seriously. My office has already received assurance from the Los Angeles Police Department that it will pursue the perpetrators of these crimes and will also take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our students. I will continue to work closely with the LAPD and my colleagues and friends, Councilmember Koretz and Councilmember Blumenfield, to ensure that the City and its resources are focused on pursuing justice and protecting our community,” added Krekorian.
“The perpetrators of acts like these are cowards who are attempting to strike fear. They will fail — today and always. The Armenian-American community and the City of Los Angeles stand united in rejecting the dogma of hate, and we stand united against those who would embrace it,” said Krekorian.
“In the Valley, we’re proud of our diversity, which includes our vibrant Armenian community. I condemn these hateful acts in the strongest possible terms and am proud to stand in solidarity with the Armenian community. My office is committed to doing everything possible to support the affected schools and students so that we can send a powerful message that hate is not welcome in the Valley,” said State Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, whose district includes both schools, in a statement.
“Despicable acts of hate and harassment have no place in our communities. We are committed to working with local law enforcement to ensure our children are safe and free of fear,” said State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian in a statement.
On Wednesday, Nazarian, a Ferrahian alumnus, along with California Highway Patrol officials and LAUSD Board member Scott M. Schmerelson visited both schools and spoke to administrators, faculty and students reassuring them that hate crimes are taken seriously.
“So sad by this hateful action We are so much better than this. Sending positive thoughts to students, teachers, admin and families,” expressed State Senator Anthony Portantino in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
The ANCA-WR strongly condemned that attacks on Tuesday, saying it “will not stand for any acts that promote intolerance.”
“This type of behavior can be credited due to the lack of accountability of the Armenian Genocide and its ongoing denial by Turkey. It also serves as a reminder of why fighting for justice for the Armenian Genocide remains at the forefront of our priorities,” added the ANCA-WR statement.
“The Consulate General 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,” said Armenia”s Consulate General to Los Angeles in a statement of Wednesday.
Manifestation of such hatred in the schools founded by a generation of the Armenian Genocide survivors is an affront to the memory of the Genocide martyrs and their descendants,” said the Consulate.
“We will follow up together with the Community organizations, the Los Angeles City, and the law enforcement on the police investigation and the process of uncovering and punishing criminals in order to completely exclude its recurrence in the future,” added the Consulate’s statement.
The safety of the students was a high priority for school officials. In condemning the attack, the Board of Regents of the Prelacy Schools also sought to quell rightful concerns by parents and the community about the safety of students.
“We would like to assure you that the safety of our Schools and Preschools is our primary focus and all our efforts and resources are being utilized to ensure the safety of our students. In this regards, the Board of Regents, School Boards of Prelacy Armenian Schools, Principals and Preschool Directors are working together to ensure that our campuses remain safe and remain open for instruction,” said the Board of Regents in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Board of Regents strongly condemns these acts, whether committed against students attending Prelacy Armenian Schools or any other Armenian School or institution, and hopes the perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” added the Board of Regents.