Azerbaijanis Harass Noor Mediterranean Grill near Boston during Attacks on Artsakh

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SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Noor Mediterranean Grill and its customers have been subject to harassment and death threats over the span of a week starting on Sunday, September 27, which also was the date Azerbaijan began its attacks on Artsakh.

Noor is an Armenian-own restaurant founded in 2014 in a suburb of Boston by Arsen Karageozian and his wife Hilda Darian Karageozian to offer Armenian and Middle Eastern food to the area. On Sunday evening, related Hilda Karageozian, there were a couple of people who came in and began to talk, supposedly on their phones. They spoke partly in their language, which was Azerbaijani, but they deliberately mixed in threatening phrases of English, saying things like “that’s an Armenian, kill them all,” so that they would be understood.

On Monday, September 28, they came in groups, and stayed in front of the store on the sidewalk, talking to both customers and the restaurant staff when either came in or out. The workers, who themselves were not of Armenian background, started to become afraid, Karageozian said.

That night, phone calls started to come to the restaurant ordering large quantities of food. They asked for five trays of beef kebab, or 5 trays of chicken kebab. Karageozian said it was clear from the accents that they were Azerbaijanis. As soon as the restaurant staff asked for 50 percent deposit, as is the usual procedure, the callers began to curse and hanged up.

Tuesday night, September 29, Karageozian said, threatening calls were received, saying “you f…ing Armenians, we are going to f… you up, we are going to kill you.”

Karageozian realized the situation was worsening and it was necessary to call the police. She did so on Monday or Tuesday. The Somerville Police Department told her to call directly if anything else happens. On Wednesday, she went in to file a formal police report concerning the telephoned death threats.

Noor co-owner Arsen Karageozian in the kitchen

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On Thursday, October 1, a detective came over to do a security walk in the restaurant. The police department began to add a directed patrol and stop by the restaurant every half an hour. The police are also looking into the phone numbers of the threatening callers, who seemed to have used their personal phones.

While all this was happening, Karageozian said that there were more than 50 attempts to hack into the restaurant’s website over the course of two or three days. Fortunately, they were locked out after a certain number of attempts.

A smear campaign against the restaurant soon began online, with negative reviews and derogatory statements made on its Yelp and Google review pages. Karageozian posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page about what was happening, writing in part: “We are a small, family-owned business and we value all of our customers equally while treating them with the utmost respect and providing the highest quality food & customer service. Noor Mediterranean Grill is not the place for anyone’s political agenda or hate and we strongly condemn these acts here in Boston and anywhere around the world. We thank you for your unwavering support and pray that the situation in Artsakh will come to a peaceful end soon.”

That led to further hostile comments on Facebook, claims that the owners made up “fake news,” as well as declarations such as “Karabakh is Azerbaijan.” It is clear that many of the post were generated by Azerbaijanis who were not living in the Boston area but in different parts of the United States and even abroad. Identical comments indicate an organized campaign, while many of the writers use broken English.

In a way, Karageozian said, it was this online campaign that bothered her husband the most. He exclaimed that they had a five-star record and achieved that through blood, sweat and tears, yet in the matter of a few days this had been destroyed. But, as Karageozian told her husband, people can see these are fake reviews.

When asked whether there were any reasons why Noor would be singled out for these attacks, Karageozian could not think of any. The only thing she could note was that their Armenian identity was clear to all, with crosses, traditional Armenian pomegranates, and even a painting of the Armenian flag by one of her children who go to Armenian school on the walls. Clearly the crisis in Artsakh was the immediate spur to the attacks.

She emphasized that “whoever comes to the store, we were always respectful towards everybody. We treated everybody the same. We obviously need to keep our customers well. I am not running a political party here.”

The positive side to this situation is the support Noor has received from Somerville residents and customers, both non-Armenian and Armenian. In fact, Karageozian said that they did have a lot of Turkish customers, and those who learned about what was going on were very supportive. They would come in and say it is not acceptable. Some even sat in the store for four or five hours, waiting for the return of agitators.

Furthermore, Karageozian said, “We have been getting an outpouring of support, with phone calls from Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, and all over the US saying ‘we support you, let us know if you need anything.’”

An Armenian from Seattle who works for Facebook spontaneously reached out to Karageozian and asked if Noor needed any help. She promised that she would try to take up the issue for Facebook, and this led to a Facebook investigation, which hopefully will get the coordinated recent negative reviews removed.

The Azerbaijani harassment was exposed by the Boston Globe on September 30. In July of this year, there were attempts by Azerbaijanis to disrupt two Armenian demonstrations in Boston. Clearly, both incidents have to be viewed in the context of international developments, though Noor seems to have been a target merely based on the Armenian identity of the owners and not due to any political activity.

Karageozian concluded, “We are grateful for the outpouring of support from Armenians and non-Armenians alike. We are grateful to the Somerville community that they have pledged to stand with us. We are going to continue to do what we do and are not going to be bullied by Azeris and forced to shut down.”

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