Two arrests made during the altercation at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the US capital
A group of pro-Erdogan demonstrators shout slogans at a group of anti-Erdogan Kurds in Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington (Reuters)
Wednesday 17 May 2017
The city of Washington on Wednesday condemned a “brutal attack on peaceful protesters” after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards clashed with pro-Kurdish demonstrators.
Eleven people, including a police officer, were hurt in a brawl outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington after President Erdogan’s bodyguards attacked protesters.
Two people were arrested during the clashes on Tuesday as Erdogan held meetings in the US capital after visiting President Donald Trump.
Witnesses said that members of Erdogan’s security detail pushed past Washington police outside the ambassador’s residence and attacked a group of supporters of a Kurdish group.
Video footage uploaded to social media shows a group of men in suits punching and kicking the protesters, including a prone woman, as police struggle to contain the clash.
The clashes continued despite police attempts to restore order, with some protestors, including women, knocked to the ground before being kicked and punched.
Other videos showed bloodied protesters on the ground.
Flint Arthur, who took part in the protest, told broadcaster CNN: “We are protesting [Erdogan’s] policies in Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq.”
He added the president’s bodyguards were using the “same sort of suppression of protest and free speech they engage in in Turkey”.
“Yesterday afternoon we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence,” a police spokesman said.
“The actions seen outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC stand in contract to the First Amendment rights and principles we work tirelessly to protect every single day,” a police statement said.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right of free expression.
The Metropolitan Police Department said it had arrested two people for assault and identified them as US residents, 49-year-old Ayten Necmi of New York and 42-year-old Jalal Kheirabadi of Virginia.
Social media posts by the two suspects suggest that Necmi is a supporter of Erdogan who came to Washington to celebrate his visit whereas Kheirabadi is a supporter of Kurdish causes.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignored a question about it at a media photo opportunity. Later a spokeswoman for the State Department, said: “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.”
“Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Yazidi Kurd demonstrator Lucy Usoyan told broadcasterer ABC: “All of the sudden they just ran towards us, someone was beating me in the head nonstop, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m on the ground already, what is the purpose to beat me?’”
Usoyan also said she was attacked by a pro-Erdogan supporter.
Tensions between Erdogan’s government and the Kurdish minority in the country are high.
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The clash came after Erdogan stood side by side with Trump at the White House. The US President had promised to strengthen strained ties despite Erdogan’s objections to the US arming of Kurdish fighters.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to take the YPG-PYD into consideration as partners in the region, and it’s going against a global agreement we reached,” Erdogan said, in reference to Kurdish People’s’ Protection Units (YPG) operating in Syria.
He also claimed that the Kurds are using the fight against the Islamic State group as an excuse for action against Turkey. He said: “In the same way, we should never allow those groups who want to change the ethnic or religious structures in the region to use terrorism as a pretext.”
The clashes are not the first incidence of Turkish political violence spilling over into Washington. In March 2016, a planned speech by Erdogan descended into violence after protesters clashed with Turkish security personnel.
At the time, a journalist was physically removed from the event site by Turkish security personnel, another kicked by a guard, and a third – a woman – thrown to the sidewalk in front of a Washington think tank where he was to speak.
The protesters outside the event, at the Brookings Institute, held a large sign reading: “Erdogan: War Criminal On The Loose,” while another used a megaphone to chant that he was a “baby-killer”.