Hate crime at Cafe Istanbul impacts high school community

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Cafe Istanbul was victim to a hate crime on Nov. 4, 2020. “When I first heard [about the attack,] I was in shock because I didn't think anybody would ever have such malicious intent,” sophomore Sima Arslan said. Photo courtesy of Sima Arslan.

Nick Kay Staff writer 

Kate Kotlyar Staff writer 

Daria Milovanova Staff writer 

Cafe Istanbul, a Beverly Hills family establishment and Turkish restaurant, fell victim to a hate crime on Nov. 4, around 8:30 p.m. A group of six to eight men went into the restaurant and started damaging its property while making pro-Armenian and derogatory statements. Students who have eaten at Cafe Istanbul prior to the crime expressed shock and sadness over the restaurant’s vandalism.

The Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD), the FBI and the LA County Probation Department are working together on the case as of this publishing. William Stepanyan, one of the main suspects, was arrested on Nov. 12th and is currently being held at the BHPD with a probation hold and no bail set. BHPD Lieutenant Max Subin believes that there is a “very good possibility” that the BHPD will identify and arrest the other suspects shown in the security footage. 

“We are going to locate [the remaining suspects] and we are going to arrest them. The person that was arrested was one of the main suspects of a crime,” Lieutenant Subin said. 

Son of the cafe’s owners, Berkan Turac (class of 2020) left the restaurant minutes before the attack.

“I was working that day, and I just went for 10 minutes to drop someone off and I was going to be right back. On my way back my father called me and said, ‘We were under attack. Don’t come back,’” Turac said.

Daughter of the restaurant’s head chef, sophomore Sima Arslan, spends quite a lot of time at the restaurant, to the point that it feels like a “second home” to her. Following the attack, she expressed concerns over her own safety and that of her family. 

“I was kind of sad that my mom, dad, aunt and uncle had to go through that because it’s traumatizing. At the same time, it kind of made me concerned for my own safety because if they are targeted, that’s kind of indirectly, me being targeted too,” Arslan said.

Three out of the four students interviewed for this article found out about the attack on social media, one being junior Nicole Kimele. The attack on the restaurant emotionally hurt her because it played a significant role in her life when she moved to Beverly Hills. 

“[Cafe Istanbul] means a lot to me because when I first moved here, that was the first place I went to eat. It [is] such a friendly and amazing place. The ambiance is great and the people are so friendly. [Seeing that happen] really hurt me and almost made me cry. It was really upsetting,” Kimele said.

Although neither Kimele nor junior Alya Su have family relation to any of the staff, they share the same joyful views on the restaurant’s environment. The hate crime against Cafe Istanbul made Su “shocked, confused and kind of enraged.”

“I would view it as like a warm, welcoming family restaurant that is open to serving anyone…no matter your gender, race or national nationality. [It feels like] a home—a warm, cozy, very nice place,” Su said.

According to U.S. News, Los Angeles falls into the top 10 most diverse cities in the United States. Turkish junior Defne Onal expressed concern for the safety of the Turkish community following the hate crime at Cafe Istanbul.

“I think most of us who have lived here or who are living here, we’re used to the idea that Los Angeles is a multicultural and safe place for many of us minorities. But this kind of attack happening on an independent establishment that’s meant to serve people like us, who are estranged from their country and feel a disconnect, [is upsetting,]” Onal said. “For this kind of establishment to exist was really comforting. And now that this kind of thing has happened, [it] is not just an attack on the owners, it’s an attack to us and our identity.” 

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