Political Repression on Embassy Row: Erdogan’s Men Attack Protesters in D.C.

By Patrick Goodenough | May 17, 2017 | 4:35 AM EDT

In this still from video footage, a man in a dark suit can be seen about to kick an anti-Erdogan protestor, lying on the sidewalk, in the head. (Screengrab from VOA Turkish footage)

(Update: “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Wednesday in response to the “violent incidents involving protestors and Turkish security personnel” in DC.  “Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest.”)

(CNSNews.com) – Protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington on Tuesday afternoon were assaulted by men – many wearing dark suits and presumed to be Turkish officials – in scenes that stoked outrage on social media.

In footage shot by VOA Turkish, a gray-haired man with a megaphone is seen being kicked in the face, more than once, while lying on the sidewalk. Moments later he can be seen walking across the camera’s field of vision, his face bloodied. Female protestors were also beaten.

The protesters, who included Armenians, Kurds and Yezidis, were demonstrating against Turkey’s controversial Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who met with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

Police officers were seen trying to pull the assailants back and move them to the ambassador’s residence side of the road, where pro-Erdogan demonstrators were rallying in support of their leader.

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department reported that it transported nine people to hospital from what it described as a “mass casualty incident.”

An Associated Press report quoted a Metropolitan Police Department spokesman as saying an altercation broke out between two groups, but added that he did not elaborate. Two people were arrested, one of whom was charged with assaulting a police officer.

Among the many reactions to the footage on Twitter, Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted, “THIS IS AMERICA. Dictator Erdogan unleashed his thugs to beat the crap out of Turkish democracy advocates …”

“Clearly Erdogan’s guards feel complete impunity, drawing on tools of repression they use at home & knowing he has their back, no matter what,” commented former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.

Critics of Erdogan’s government attributed the violence to members of the president’s security detail.

“We condemn Turkey’s violence against peaceful Armenian, Assyrian, Kurdish, Greek, Yezidi, and progressive Turkish protesters in Washington DC today,” the Armenian Youth Federation said in a statement. “Nothing scares Turkey more than the people they oppress uniting and rising up together against their common enemy.”

The ambassador’s residence is located across the road from Sheridan Circle Park in Northwest Washington, a couple of blocks down Massachusetts Avenue from the Turkish Embassy.

“A peaceful protest here in Sheridan Circle was attacked by a group of, I imagine, supporters of Recep Erdogan, who were gathered at the Turkish Embassy,” Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) executive director Aram Hamparian said from the scene shortly after the incident.

“They crossed the street, stormed the street, just took on everyone, left many, many people bloodied.”

“A brutal attack, unprovoked,” Hamparian said. “If you’re trying to make a political point that it is the Turkish government that is committing violence, then this proves the point. The Turkish government, here in Washington DC, is committing violence.

“It’s a sad day for peaceful protest,” he said. “The very type of violence that exists in Turkey is now being exported to Washington DC by the very same Erdogan dictatorship.”

Queries sent to the Turkish Embassy brought no response by press time.

Erdogan launched a crackdown on critics of the government following a failed coup attempt last July, imposing a state of emergency, shutting down scores of media organizations and hundreds of schools, detaining tens of thousands of people, and dismissing more than 130,000 civil servants.

Last month, Turks voted by a narrow margin for constitutional changes granting the president far-reaching new powers.

Erdogan’s bodyguards have been accused of disturbances on U.S. soil in the past. When he gave a speech at the Brookings Institution in March last year, members of his security detail, in the words of a Brookings senior fellow, “roughed up protesters outside the building and tried to drag away ‘undesired’ journalists, an approach typical of the Russians or Chinese.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow