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Ron Kaye: Fighting the 'Power'

February 20, 2011|By Ron Kaye

They are a people who have long endured repression and reigns of terror across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Even here, in the Promised Land where so many Armenians are thriving, they still are victimized.

Sometimes it's the pain of prejudice that every wave of immigrants has felt when their numbers threaten the way things were.

This time, it comes from their own people, a vast Los Angeles-based international syndicate called Armenian Power that is accused of preying on Armenians, engaging in kidnapping, robbery and extortion even as its 250 members and hundreds of runners stole millions from banks and credit card companies, dealt drugs and committed other crimes against us all.

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On Wednesday, a joint local-state-federal task force of nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers — Operation Power Outage — rounded up 74 of the 99 suspects indicted by grand juries in Los Angeles and Orange County on 234 counts of criminal activity and racketeering.Of the 70 suspects identified as being from Los Angeles County, 19 live in Glendale and six live in Burbank.

The crimes of the few feed prejudice and stain a whole community, shining an unwanted negative light on the 80,000 or more Armenians in Glendale and the half-million across Southern California who work hard, obey the law and contribute to our society.

"The bulk of the community is unaware of and unaffected by the deeds that are alleged in this indictment," said Garo Ghazarian, vice chair of the Armenian Bar Assn. "The community is not tolerant of this. They want to live a free and safe life. That's why I left Beirut. That's why we are here. These crimes as alleged were committed by the few, but they create a negative image for us all."

Armenian Power is like the Italian La Cosa Nostra in some ways, but there is no godfather whose word is the word of God, no elaborate organization.

Instead, the brokers who try keep the peace here and back in the old country are called "Thieves-in-Law," "Goghs" in Armenian, a role that goes back decades long before the wave of Armenian immigration to America.

Starting in the 1980s in Hollywood as little more than a street gang for self-protection in a tough neighborhood, Armenian Power evolved over time much like similar Latino gangs into a criminal enterprise. It recruited immigrants, aligned itself in prisons and on the streets with the Mexican Mafia, collaborated with black gangs and challenged the old guard of "Thieves-in-Law" from Yerevan to Moscow.

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