SAN FRANCISCO - Members of the Armenian community were stunned Friday to find graffiti scrawled across the walls of the KZV Armenian School in San Francisco, including messages of intimidation and obscenities targeting the Armenian community.
"As I came today at 8 this morning, I saw the graffiti on the walls. I was shocked. I was appalled," said Grace Andonian, the school principal, "The community is in shock. Our families, students, alumni, they were all in shock to see these hate messages on the wall."
By evening a crowd gathered in the school parking lot, coming together to pray and heal from the hurtful attack.
"This is the only Armenian school in Northern California. The community considers it the pride and joy of the community. It's one place where we can actually express our Armenian identity," said Roxanne Makasdjian, a member of the Bay Area Armenian National Committee.
The graffiti attack reopens centuries-old wounds with Turkey and comes as tensions have flared up between Azerbaijan and Armenia over new conflicts in an oil-rich region near their border.
Earlier in the week, protests in Los Angeles led to clashes outside the Azerbaijan consulate.
This attack on a school in San Francisco, however, raises concern about the impact on the students and promoting the values of tolerance and peace.
"This is not how we solve our problems. This is not what we do. We teach them tolerance. We teach them sympathy. We teach them kindness," said Andonian.
Sympathy and support also was expressed by the Azerbaijani community in the Bay Area.
"We strongly believe this act is ugly, it is heinous, it is appalling," said Bakhtiyar Neyman, a board member with the Azerbaijan Cultural Society of Northern California, "Our tight-knit group of Azerbaijanis here in California have been sharing the news of it and everyone was very disheartened."
Neyman says the graffiti itself looks suspicious and should be investigated and condemned.
"The name Azerbaijan itself was misspelled. The other cities' names were misspelled," said Neyman.
"I call everyone, not just Armenian and Azerbaijani communities to be united in condemning this kind of act," said Neyman.
San Francisco's District Attorney Chesa Boudin is vowing to find the criminals.
"We are absolutely treating this investigation as a hate crime. It is outrageous. It is an attack on every single one of us in San Francisco. There is no place for intolerance or hate," said Boudin.
The school says they have received hundreds of calls from people throughout the community who said they want to help clean the walls and paint over the graffiti.
The school has security cameras and the district attorney says he's working with police on the investigation.