WASHINGTON—Some of the people who launched a brutal attack Tuesday on demonstrator in front the Turkish Ambassador’s residence were identified as members of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security team.
The demonstration began at Lafayette Square at noon, when Erdogan was meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. Following the White House meeting, Erdogan met with a group of US businessmen at the Turkish Ambassador’s residence across from Sheridan Circle, where another group of protesters were gathered. The pro-Erdogan group broke through the police line, stormed the circle and began beating the demonstrators gathered at the circle.
Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham told a news conference Wednesday that 11 people were injured, including a police officer, and nine were taken to a hospital.
“Yesterday we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protests,” Chief Newsham said. “First and foremost I will say that that is not something that we will tolerate here in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This is a city where people should be able to come and peacefully protest.”
In a separate statement issued on Wednesday, the police said the fight stood “in contrast to the First Amendment rights and principles we work tirelessly to protect each and every day.”
Newsham added that some members of the pro-Erdogan group were carrying firearms, which made it more difficult for police to contain the scene. While he did not confirm whether Erdogan’s security team was involved in the attack, he did say that his department was working with the State Department and Secret Service to identify the suspects. The Turkish Anadolou News Agency reported that, in fact, Erdogan’s security team was involved in the attack
“We intend to assure that there is accountability for anyone involved in this assault,” he said.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a statement Wednesday decrying the attack.
“What we saw yesterday—a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration—is an affront to D.C. values and our rights as Americans. I strongly condemn these actions and have been briefed by Chief Newsham on our response. The Metropolitan Police Department will continue investigating the incident and will work with federal partners to ensure justice is served,” said the Bowser’s statement.
“We commend Mayor Bowser and Police Chief Newsham for taking the lead in condemning this vicious attack on peaceful protesters in Washington, DC and look forward to working closely with federal and metropolitan law enforcement officials to ensure that justice is served,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “President Erdogan may be able to get away with similar attacks and repression in Turkey – but we simply cannot allow him to export his brand of hatred and repression to our nation’s capital or anywhere in the US.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the State Department announced it was “concerned by the violent incidents involving protesters and Turkish Security personnel on Tuesday evening,” stating that “violence is never an appropriate response to free speech.”
Hamparian condemned the State Department statement as “weak and ineffective – and, frankly, embarrassing.”
“Apparently, as far as the State Department is concerned, there is no line that Recep Erdogan cannot cross,” explained Hamparian. “He sent his goons to DC to rough up Americans and suppress the free speech rights of US citizens, and all the State Department can muster is a generic expression of opposition to violence.”
Sen. John McCain also took to Twitter to condemn the attack.
“This is the United States of America,” he said on Twitter. “We do not do this here.”
Tuesday’s attack was not the first incident where Erdoagan’s security has been involved in violently clashing with protesters. Last year, ahead of a speech at the Brookings Institute, Erdogan’s security team clashed with protesters and attempted to physically remove journalists from the venue, among them the noted reporter Amberin Zaman.
The protest was organized by a coalition of organizations, including the Armenian National Committee of America and the American Hellenic Council. Several different groups participated in the protest including representatives from the Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, and Assyrian communities.
“[This was] the type of violence you would never expect to see in America’s capital. It was the type of violence you’d expect to see in Erdogan’s Turkey and in other dictatorships,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, who captured parts of the attack and streamed the aftermath live on the ANCA’s Facebook page. “This is the very type of intolerance that has come to predominate in Turkey and it has now been exported here,” he added.
“I saw a group of peaceful protesters in Sheridan Circle—a grassy area across from the Turkish Ambassador’s residence—who were protesting and exercising their constitutional right to speak their minds, to hold signs, to share their opinions, and express their views get rushed from across the street by a group of a pro-Erdogan [demonstrators], who broke through the police lines and attacked literally anybody within their reach with their fists and anything else they could get a hold of,” Hamparian said in the live video moments after the attack. Hamparian went on the explain that the crowd of Erdogan supporters bear as many people as they could and that many were bloodied and had to be taken to the hospital.
“This is exactly the type of violence you see in Ankara and they are exporting it here. It’s one thing for the Turkish government to do that to its own citizens—[which is] a terrible thing. It is another thing for us, as Americans, to see that exported to the United States,” Hamparian said.