Masked Suspect Sought for Hate Crime of Hanging Turkish Flags on L.A. Armenian Schools

People outside the Turkish Consulate protest the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire on April 24, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Police have branded the hanging of Turkish flags at Armenian schools this week a hate crime and issued an appeal today for help in catching the suspect.

Video surveillance captured a masked man jumping the gate at Holy Martyrs Armenian church and school in Encino at 4:40 a.m. on Jan. 29. Using zip ties, the person then hung a dozen Turkish flags around the property.

The LAPD said detectives investigating that crime learned of another similar incident at AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Winnetka, also a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley.

The suspect is described as 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 11 inches tall, wearing a black mask, black hooded sweatshirt, black pants and black shoes.

Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Middle and High School issued a statement to parents reassuring them that classes were continuing as normal and that “the school has taken precautions to ensure the safety of our students.”

AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School told families in a letter that “multiple” Turkish flags were posted on the exterior gate, prompting police to classify it as a “hate incident” instead of a crime.

“Please note we are enhancing our security efforts with police patrolling the area more frequently and we will remain a closed campus until further notice,” the letter continued. “We are not allowing anyone on campus.” An LAPD officer was called in to monitor student drop-offs.

The Armenian schools targeted “have been in constant communication with one another” about the incidents and asked that “all staff and families remain vigilant of entries, exits, and any unrecognizable persons on campus not only this week but every day.”

The L.A. area is home to the largest population of Armenians in the U.S., with significant cultural and political influence.

The Association of Turkish Americans of Southern California said in a statement today that the Turkish flag “is the symbol of the unity, sovereignty, independence and glorious history of Turkey,” and Turkish-Americans “take pride in carrying their flag with honor and dignity in order to show their allegiance and respect to their home country.”

Turks, they added, “would never allow anyone to take advantage of their flag for provocative acts” and the group declared that “the Turkish American community has not been part of the deliberate provocation staged yesterday in Los Angeles.”

While adding that Turks “are strong and vocal advocates for diversity and peaceful coexistence,” the statement never mentioned the word “Armenian.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted, “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 @LAPDHQ will not stop working until we discover who did this.”

“It is the equivalent of putting a Nazi swastika on the side of a Jewish school,” Councilman Paul Koretz said at a news conference. “It is outrageous, and we are not going to stand for it as a city.”

Local Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted that the targeted 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.”

Another Valley congressman, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), called on the FBI to investigate potential violations of federal hate crimes statutes.