SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While San Francisco police continue investigating hate crimes targeting their local community, thousands of Bay Area residents of Armenian descent and their supporters marched to the Golden Gate Bridge Saturday to raise awareness of the growing border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan half a world away.
The protest and march was peaceful with organizers and demonstrators hoping it captured the attention of Bay Area residents.
“The reason we are out here — Armenians are just trying to survive, we are trying to defend our land, our rightful land and survive as a people,” said Natalie.
Kirkor Derabrahamian, of the Armenia Youth Federation, echoed her sentiments.
“I want everyone to be aware of what is happening,” he told KPIX 5. “I can’t just sit here and do nothing while people younger than me — 18 years old are trying to defend their homeland from a military force.”
“It’s a humanitarian issue at the end of the day. It’s something every person should care about,” he added.
The recent bout of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces started Sept. 27 and left hundreds of people dead in the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since a separatist war there ended in 1994. The region lies in Azerbaijan but has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
On Sunday, Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of attacking large cities overnight in violation of the cease-fire deal brokered by Russia that seeks to end the worst outbreak of hostilities in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The Azerbaijani authorities said that nine civilians have been killed and over 30 wounded after Armenian forces fired missiles overnight on Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, and hit a residential building. According to Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General’s office, the city of Mingachevir also came under missile attacks early Sunday.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s military officials have denied attacking Ganja and said the territory’s army is observing the cease-fire. They added that Azerbaijani forces shelled Stepanakert, the region’s capital, and other towns during the night in violation of the truce.
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a truce in Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin had brokered it in a series of calls with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
The cease-fire deal was announced in early Saturday, after 10 hours of talks in the Russian capital sponsored by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and took effect at noon Saturday. The deal stipulated that the cease-fire should pave the way for talks on settling the conflict.
Meanwhile, the conflict may be the source of a series of hate crimes targeting San Francisco’s Armenian community. San Francisco police are currently investigating three separate incidents.
An Armenian school was riddled with bullets last month in an early morning shooting — the third hate crime against an Armenian establishment in San Francisco within the last two months.
Around 2:25 a.m., officers patrolling the city’s Stonestown neighborhood heard gunshots near the Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan Armenian School at 825 Brotherhood Way.
Officers searched the area to no avail, but noticed a sign outside the school was riddled with bullet holes. No one was injured in the shooting, police said.
The shooting is the second hate crime to occur at the school.
“I’m very upset and angry. I have a lot of nieces and nephews who come here a lot of friends have kids who come here and this is getting ridiculous,” said former student Saro Sarkisian. “I mean gunshots at a school!”
“It’s reprehensible,” said Khatchig Tazian, a leader in the Armenian-American community in San Francisco, who wants the FBI to investigate.
“We would like to see federal help come into this. Because it is a hate crime and it’s escalating as we speak,” said Tazian. “It started with graffiti, then to arson, now it’s a shooting. The next one is probably going to be somebody getting shot.”
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but several members the Armenian-American community in San Francisco said they suspect it has something to do with military tensions on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
Tazian said his community is offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attacks. He is urging calm.
On July 24, suspects were seen on surveillance video breaking into the same school and vandalizing its walls with graffiti that conveyed anti-Armenian messages. The suspects in that case remain at large, police said.
Then firefighters extinguished a suspected arson fire at the St. Gregory The Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church at 51 Commonwealth Ave. in the city’s Laurel Heights neighborhood.
Although no one was injured in the blaze, it caused extensive damage to the church’s office and library, among other facilities. The suspected arson fire drew outrage from District Attorney Chesa Boudin, as well as members of the city’s Armenian community.
A GoFundMe campaign to help the church with repair costs has already raised more than $40,000 of its $100,000 goal as of Monday afternoon. The page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/san-francisco-armenian-church-amp-community-offices.
Anyone with information about any of the cases is asked to contact to police’s 24-hour anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444 or to text a tip to TIP411 with “SFPD” at the beginning of the message.