Glendale man to plead guilty to federal hate crime for attack on Turkish restaurant

A Glendale man will plead guilty to a hate crime charge after he attacked five people at a family-owned Turkish restaurant last year while making death threats, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.

William Stepanyan, 23, will also plead guilty to one count of conspiracy, according to a plea agreement filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Stepanyan is expected to enter his guilty plea in the coming weeks, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California, which is prosecuting the case.

On Nov. 4, 2020, Stepanyan sent a text message to his co-defendant, Tujunga resident Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, saying that he planned to go “hunting for [T]urks,” according to the plea agreement.

Later that day, a group of nine people, including Stepanyan and Chalikyan, drove to the restaurant to “express anti-Turkish and pro-Armenian sentiment because they considered the restaurant symbolic of Turkey and believed that Turkish people would be present,” according to the plea agreement.

The restaurant, Café Istanbul in Beverly Hills, is not identified in court documents. The business’ name was previously disclosed to The Times by the Beverly Hills Police Department, which helped investigate the incident.

During the drive, Stepanyan “expressed his hatred of ‘Turks,’” the document said.

The incident is rooted in the historic animosity between Turkey and Armenia. Both Stepanyan and Chalikyan are Armenian American, prosecutors said.

Tensions between Turkish and Armenian communities worldwide flared in September 2020 as Turkey supported Azerbaijan in its border war with Armenia, prosecutors said.

“Numerous protests and counter-protests, pitting individuals of Armenian and Turkish descent against one another, took place in Los Angeles County,” prosecutors said.

After arriving at the restaurant, Stepanyan and Chalikyan “stormed” inside and attacked victims while wearing masks, prosecutors said.

According to the plea agreement, the two men shouted things like: “Turks!”; “Ah! Armenia!”; “Azerbaijan!”; “Artsakh is Armenia!” and “We came to kill you! We will kill you!”

Four of the five victims of the attack were of Turkish descent, prosecutors said. Multiple people were injured, “including one individual who lost feeling in their legs and collapsed multiple times due to the injury,” they added.

Stepanyan also ripped out the restaurant’s computer terminals and stole a victim’s iPhone, prosecutors said.

The attack resulted in at least $20,000 in property damage and forced the restaurant to close temporarily, “resulting in thousands of dollars in lost revenue,” prosecutors said.

Stepanyan will face a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison, according to the plea agreement.

Stepanyan’s defense attorney, Kenneth Reed, could not be reached for comment.

Chalikyan’s case is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 26, prosecutors said. He has pleaded not guilty to five hate crime charges and one count of conspiracy.

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