ENCINO, Calif.—Just over 12 hours after an unknown suspect allegedly hung Turkish flags at two Armenian private schools in southern California, the local Armenian community joined the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region (ANCA-WR) and the Armenian Genocide Committee to condemn the vandalism.
Inside the gymnasium of Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School in Encino, California on Tuesday evening, community leaders and school officials held a press conference hosted by the Armenian Genocide Committee to update the public and concerned families on the ongoing police investigation.
Ferrahian principal Sossi Shanlian informed everyone that surveillance cameras captured a masked man allegedly trespassing onto school property at around four in the morning on Tuesday. Shanlian said the suspect, dressed in black clothing with face and head covered, jumped the front gate and started hanging Turkish flags in the parochial school’s courtyard. At Ferrahian, the Turkish flags were hanging feet away from the steps leading to the Armenian church on-site. The suspect also allegedly targeted AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park, which is about five miles away.
After a preliminary investigation that failed to use the term “hate crime,” local law enforcement is now taking this matter seriously and designating it as such, according to the ANCA-WR. “I’m sorry to the Armenian community,” said Los Angeles Police Department captain Ernest Eskridge. “This is a very serious crime. We are doing our best to bring this suspect to justice.” Captain Eskridge also expressed his commitment to ensure the Armenian community is at peace.
But peace is something that’s been difficult to come by for the Armenian people. As the chair of the ANCA-WR Nora Hovsepian explained, one of the targets, Ferrahian, was founded almost 60 years ago by a generation of Armenian Genocide survivors. “This is a direct affront to them and to their descendants,” said Hovsepian. To this day, the government of Turkey continues to deny the events of 1915.
That lack of recognition is one reason why several local elected officials felt compelled to attend and stand in solidarity with the Armenian community. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, one of several proponents of Armenian Genocide recognition in the state, equated the hate crime at these two southern California Armenian schools to that of a Nazi swastika plastered on a Jewish school building. Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who represents Canoga Park, recalled Holocaust Remembrance Day in his comments saying, “This kind of hate is pervasive.”
School administrators say the young school community is shocked yet strong, despite the circumstances. Shanlian said this has become a teachable moment for the students. After a short assembly Tuesday morning, Shanlian said Ferrahian students “broke out in a spontaneous expression of their unity, love and respect for the Armenian culture and heritage.” They also took down all the Turkish flags and replaced them with even more Armenian flags.
Classes on Wednesday are still in session at both schools. Security will also be heightened; parents can expect to see police near and on-campus as they continue their investigation.