In an incident Beverly Hills police called a hate crime, a group of men on Wednesday night vandalized a restaurant and assaulted its employees while making “pro-Armenia statements."
Between six and eight men believed to be in their 20s or 30s carried out the attack around 8:30 p.m., police said. Although authorities did not name the restaurant and said only that it was located on the 300 block of South Beverly Drive, a man who identified himself as the son of the owners of Cafe Istanbul said his parents' restaurant had been the target. The cafe's windows were covered with plywood Thursday, and signs affixed to the wood read, "Armenians attacked this business."
The owners' son, who asked that his name not be used because he feared for his and his family's safety , said a group of masked men began destroying the restaurant's outdoor dining area on Wednesday night, flinging chairs and shattering dishes. "They were chanting that they wanted Turks to die, that they were here to kill Turks," the son said.
No customers were dining at the restaurant at the time, and his parents were the only ones present, he said.
The men then entered the restaurant, throwing chairs at his parents, the son said. His father, who had turned to shield his mother, was struck in the back. The two fled through the back of the restaurant and took shelter in a nearby business. The men vandalized the interior of the restaurant and stole a few iPhones his parents had left behind, the son said.
For the past few months, the son claimed, anonymous callers to the restaurant have made death threats against the owners and vowed to "burn down your restaurant while you're eating breakfast with your family."
"This cannot be accepted," he said.
Beverly Hills detectives and a specialized technology unit in the Police Department are reviewing surveillance video in an effort to identify suspects, the police said in a statement.
Beverly Hills Mayor Lester Friedman called the incident an “unacceptable act of hate and violence.”
“There is no place in our city for this behavior,” he said in a statement, “and we ask members of the public to please come forward with any information on the suspects in this case.”
Ahmet Atahan, 57, who said he has frequented Cafe Istanbul since it opened nine years ago, went to the restaurant Thursday to support its owners. Atahan said that while many immigrants from Armenia, Turkey and neighboring countries have carried with them the animosity that has long defined relations in the region, "this is L.A. — this is California. We have to live in harmony."
Crimes like the attack on the cafe "demoralize everyone," Atahan said. "Not just Turks — even my Armenian friends, they're worried about retaliation. You never know what the reaction's going to be."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.