By Andres de Ocampo
and Gavin J. Quinton
Armenian and Jewish community leaders issued a statement of unity at this Tuesday’s Burbank City Council meeting, condemning anti-Armenian posters found in the city of Glendale last month.
“It is the responsibility of us all to take a stand by overpowering hate, one act of common decency at a time,” said Sarkis Simonian, co-chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, in a statement at city hall.
On Tuesday, the Burbank City Council proclaimed April 24 as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day throughout the city ahead of the 108th anniversary of the tragedy. Simonian accepted the proclamation on behalf of the ANCA.
Meanwhile, Glendale officials continue to investigate a possible hate speech crime. Last month, Glendale Police Department Captain Robert William relayed details at a news briefing about the posting of flyers which state “Israel fully supports our Azeri-Turk Brothers …” in completing the Armenian genocide. The message was signed “Rabbi.”
The distribution of the divisive flyers is being investigated as a potential hate crime, William said. The captain reported that the flyers were posted on city light poles outside of the St. Mary’s Armenian church sometime before 7 a.m. on March 31.
“As two ancient peoples with rich histories, the Armenian and Jewish communities share a common bond of resilience and strength in a case of severe adversity. Our people have both experienced tremendous hardships and tragedies throughout our respective histories,” said Rabbi Mark Sobel of Temple Beth Emet in Burbank.
Sobel issued the statement at Burbank City Hall alongside Simonian. The two are members of the Burbank Human Relations Council, a local nonprofit advocating for equality and advocacy in the city.
“We stand together as allies and friends committed to building a brighter future for all people. We understand the importance of recognizing and honoring each other’s struggles,” Simonian added.
Historians have categorized the mass killing of more than an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Turks in the Ottoman Empire as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Eleven flyers were recovered around the church in the 500 block of South Central Avenue in Glendale by police officers, but William anticipated there could be more. At the time of the press conference on March 31, law enforcement searched for one suspect seen posting flyers on surveillance camera footage around the church. The investigation, however, is ongoing and more surveillance footage in respective areas is being reviewed to confirm that, said Sgt. Victor Jackson, GPPD’s public information officer.
The suspect was described by law enforcement personnel as a male individual wearing black clothing carrying a satchel.
The Glendale police captain said that the posting of the flyers is being investigated to its “fullest potential” as a crime and, if there are links or proof of “criminal conduct,” then potential prosecution would be sought.
Former Glendale Mayor Ardy Kassakhian called the distribution of the flyers a “cowardly act” that is aimed at scaring and intimidating Glendale residents. Kassakhian emphasized that city representatives will continue to speak out and condemn acts of hate speech, crimes and incidents.
“Even after more than a century since the unimaginable atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire through the killing of over 1.5 million innocent Armenians, we continue to witness the efforts by hate groups today which continue to promote the atrocious act of genocide right here in the city of Glendale, home to one of the largest Armenian communities in the United States,” Kassakhian said in a statement.
Glendale Councilwoman Elen Asatryan compared the incident to a similar Beverly Hills incident in 2021, when anti-Armenian flyers were posted throughout Los Angeles calling for Turkey, Azerbaijan, Israel and Pakistan to “wipe Armenia off the map,” according to reports on the incident.
William said the GPPD will cross-reference the Glendale incident with Beverly Hills law enforcement’s notes and information gathered during the respective 2021 incident to see if there is any overlap.
Asatryan highlighted that the Beverly Hills flyers were directed at protests surrounding the ongoing blockade of food, medicine and other supplies in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which is primarily populated by ethnic Armenians. The region is the center of a century-old territorial dispute of ownership between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with conflict recently escalating to disastrous levels in 2020 after an Azerbaijani offensive on the region.
“The inadequate and unacceptable response from Beverly Hills through that incident has undoubtedly emboldened the same or different set of people who escalate the threats and bring them to Glendale,” she said.
“Glendale has no place for hate. … Each person must feel safe in our neighborhoods, in our schools and place of worship.”
Newly appointed Glendale Mayor Dan Brotman said he fears that the posting of the flyers in Glendale could trigger copycat hate incidents against various ethnic groups and spoke to a sense of “sadness” he feels toward the normalization of these incidents.
“As a Jewish American, I noted the supposed signature of the person who did this. We don’t know if it is a person who can call themselves a rabbi. I want to say that this, in no way, shape or form, reflects the sentiments of Jews — in Glendale or anywhere that I know of,” Brotman said.
“As [Kassakhian] said, we share with Armenians the experience of persecution and being a diaspora population. We have a lot of things in common and I would hate to see anything like this create divisions between our groups,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines hate crimes as violent acts of assault, murder, arson, vandalism or threats to commit such crimes that are motivated by prejudice toward race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. The DOJ states that hate crimes may also include conspiracy or another person to commit those crimes, even if the crime was never acted on.
If anyone has information that would assist in the investigation, please contact the Glendale Police Department at (818) 548-4911.
First published in the April 15 print issue of the Burbank Leader.