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Armenian leaders interpret gang's rise

Residents offer theories on how Armenian Power came to thrive in the area.

February 25, 2011|By Liana Aghajanian, Special to the News-Press & Leader

With the headlines gone and the arrests made, Armenians in Burbank and Glendale are now struggling with the perceptions of their cultural identity after a massive crackdown on the organized crime ring Armenian Power.

The cultural perceptions — egged on by media bias, according to some, cultural fractions within their own community that hinder progress, according to others — have prompted many to dig deeper to address societal issues that many say are the root of the problem.

The sting last week, which resulted in the arrest of 70 people in Los Angeles County, was aimed at crippling Armenian Power. Nearly 100 people throughout Southern California have been accused of extortion, kidnapping and fraud totaling at least $20 million.

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For Ara Arzumanian, who has worked in the field of youth development for the last 10 years, Armenian youth choosing a life of crime isn't any different from teen suicide or depression, where multiple risk factors like socioeconomic status and drug and alcohol abuse are at play.

“The core issue of all these problems is that we as an Armenian community and broader community, we as human beings, have abandoned our teenagers,” he said. “If these kids are lost, it's because we have lost them; if they fail, it's because we've failed them. We are not involved in their lives.”

Arzumanian — a director for the Armenian General Benevolent Union's Generation Next program, which works to mentor at-risk youth — said turning the tide is also about prevention.

“We need to get massively involved in kids' lives so we don't have this problem,” he said.

A street gang with roots in East Hollywood from the late 1980s, Armenian Power was created in response to other ethnic gangs in the area, according to the federal indictment. But while most gangs concentrated on turf wars and rivals, Armenian Power ran a tight ship of members who participated in fraud, extortion and white-collar crime, and didn't discriminate against ethnic lines when choosing victims.

The Rev. Vazken Movsesian, who’s part of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, has focused part of his ministry on gang intervention.

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