Yesterday, shortly after Donald Trump tweeted “It was a great honor to welcome the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to the @WhiteHouse today!” members of Erdoğan’s security staff, many of whom appear to have been armed, attacked a peaceful protest across from the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C.
“We were only 13 people but we were Iranian, Kurdish, Armenian, Ezidi, American, man and woman, and we were basically there to protest Erdoğan and the Turkish state’s fascist policies,” said Pooyan Bahar, one of the protesters who describes himself as a human rights advocate. “And we were attacked by Erdoğan’s security guards who basically outnumbered us five to one and they brutally attacked us.”
Earlier in the day, protesters, both for and against Erdoğan, had gathered in front of the White House where there was a small skirmish between the two sides. When they heard Erdoğan would stop by the ambassador’s residence, a couple of blocks from the Turkish embassy, a small group of anti-Erdoğan protestors marched there.
“When we came in front of the Turkish ambassador’s house, there were about 20 D.C. police on the ground who were standing between us and the Turkish protesters who were on the other side of the street and they started shouting at us and we were chanting on the other side of the street,” he said.
A small fight broke out, Bahar says, with kicking and punching on both sides, but both sides quickly retreated when police pushed them back.
Then, Bahar said, Erdoğan seemed to arrive at the ambassador’s house, which used to be the embassy. “As he was going inside the embassy, some of his security forces came out and there were about a hundred of them and each time, as you’ve seen on the videos, they are beating us and it is five people beating one person.”
Bahar saw two different groups attack the protesters. “The ones with the suits, which I have seen pictures that show they were wearing guns under their coats, and the ones who were wearing green were openly wearing firearms.”
Kurdish and Armenian and Ezidi protestors brutality attacked by members of Erdogan security in front of Turkish Emb pic.twitter.com/StrRKgNHfr
— Baltimore BLOC (@BmoreBloc) May 16, 2017
In videos, the scene is chaotic. As Metropolitan Police officers pushed the men in dark suits away from one protester, they simply ran around the officers to kick or punch or choke others.
At least nine people were hospitalized.
“One female friend you can see she’s on the ground and these men come and they are kicking her, like multiple people come and just walk on her and they kicked her in the head and she had an MRI yesterday in GW hospital,” Bahar said.
Bahar says that one of his friends, seen shaking on the ground in a video, had a seizure after being attacked and another was choked, an incident caught in photographs and video. One man, Bahar says, was attacked as he carried his daughter on his shoulders.
“Attacking peaceful protesters goes against our core values to exercise our First Amendment Rights here in Washington, DC.,” said police chief Peter Newsham. “There were two arrests yesterday afternoon, and MPD will be working with our federal partners to assure that there is accountability for any others involved.”
One of those arrested, Jalal Kheirabaoi, a Kurd who was with the protesters, was charged with assaulting a police officer. The other Ayten Necmi is listed as a resident of New York and was charged with aggravated assault. Bahar, who was at the May 17 hearing for Kheirabaoi said that the charge had been reduced to “misdemeanor resisting arrest.”
“They are signaling they are going to drop the charges because they gave the Turkish guy who assaulted him a first degree assault and the judge also gave a staying away order to the Turkish guy,” he said.
Bahar says that he and his associates are trying to press charges against the security forces who attacked them but fears that the many “are Erdoğan’s security attaches, who are coming with him from Turkey and are going to return with him to Turkey today.”
He said they were questioned in the hospital by the Secret Service, who would not comment on the incident and referred me to the State Department.
“We are concerned by the violent incidents involving protestors and Turkish security personnel Tuesday evening. Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement. “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.”
There was no answer at the press number for the Turkish Embassy but Anadolu Agency, a Turkish news service, reported that members of Erdoğan’s security forces were involved in the attack.
The incident comes exactly a month after Donald Trump called to congratulate Erdoğan on a narrow victory in a referendum that would rewrite the constitution, allowing Erdoğan to assume total authority and eliminate the parliamentary system.
At the time, the State Department called on the Turkish government “to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens,” even though Erdoğan’s government had been engaged in a violent suppression of the press and purging universities, the military, police, civil service, and political parties of opponents.
According to a Guardian report, 173 media outlets have been shut down since the state of emergency following a failed coup last year and more than 150 journalists have been imprisoned. Kurdish outlets have been hit particularly hard and Kurdish reporters are often arrested while covering protests.
After the arrest of journalist Deniz Yüce in February, Amnesty International issued a statement saying that “Turkey now has the dubious honor of being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, and free media in the country is in its death throes.”
Never one to be outdone, Trump allegedly asked then-FBI director James Comey to jail journalists, according to a New York Times report released on the same day as Erdoğan’s visit to the White House. According to the Times’ sources, it was the very first thing Trump asked Comey, in their February meeting, even before asking him to drop the Flynn investigation.
The White House has not commented on the attack of protesters by foreign security forces.
Additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg