DC Police Arrest Turkish Guards for Attacking Demonstrators; Turkey Chides U.S. Envoy Over Handling of Brawl at Washington Protest


ISTANBUL (New York Times and Washington Post) — The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the American ambassador in Ankara on Monday, May 15, to complain about the detention of two Turkish security officers outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington last week, a Turkish official said.

The detentions occurred about two hours after Turkish government bodyguards were filmed assaulting several protesters outside the ambassador’s residence, which is separate from the embassy.

An official at the Turkish Embassy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of a diplomatically tense case, said that the two Turkish guards were only briefly detained, and that they have since returned to Turkey.

Ambassador John R. Bass received a written and verbal condemnation of what the Turks called “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by American police officers toward the bodyguards, who were in Washington to protect President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister.

In the episode last Tuesday, a demonstration outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington erupted into a brawl that pitted Armenian and Kurdish protesters against Turkish officials, supporters of Erdogan and the bodyguards. Nine people were hospitalized.

As American police officers tried to break up the fracas, several of the Turkish bodyguards were shoved and at least one was detained briefly.

“It has been formally requested that the U.S. authorities conduct a full investigation of this diplomatic incident and provide the necessary explanation,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

The summoning of Mr. Bass appeared to be a tit-for-tat response to the State Department’s summoning of the Turkish ambassador to Washington, Serdar Kilic.

The original episode took place after Erdogan met with President Donald Trump and expressed frustration with his decision to continue an alliance with Syrian Kurdish militias. Turkey regards those militias as terrorist groups.

One video of the scene showed  Erdogan watching the brawl, and he appeared to instruct some of the bodyguards who were involved. Another video showed Turkish bodyguards kicking protesters as they lay on the ground.

Several American politicians expressed shock at such scenes unfolding in the American capital. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, called for the Turkish ambassador to be expelled.

McCain tweeted, “This is the United States of America. We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior.”

Democratic senator Claire McCaskill said she agreed with her Republican colleague, tweeting: “Unacceptable. They were assaulting these people on US soil. Turkish Ambassador should be kicked out of country.”

“What we saw yesterday — a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration — is an affront to D.C. values and our rights as Americans,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Rep. Ed Royce demanded accountability for the attacks. “To send a clear message that these acts of violence will not be tolerated, I ask that you immediately look into this matter and bring all appropriate criminal charges before these individuals leave the United States. Agents of foreign governments should never be immune from prosecution for felonious behavior. Above all else, they should never be permitted to violate the protections afforded by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The protesters have said the bodyguards started the fight. Turkey has said the demonstrators provoked the bodyguards.

The Foreign Ministry said in its statement, “During the meeting with the Ambassador, it was emphasized that the lapses of security experienced during our President’s stay in Washington, which were caused by the inability of U.S. authorities to take sufficient precautions at every stage of the official program, will not overshadow what in every other aspect was a very successful and important visit.”

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry lodged a formal protest Monday with the U.S. ambassador over “aggressive” actions by American security personnel during a visit to Washington last week by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that was marred by a violent clash between Turkish guards and protesters.

The summoning of the ambassador, John Bass, sharply escalated a diplomatic rift between Turkey and the United States following the violence. Footage of the brawl was widely circulated on social media, prompting outrage in the United States, along with calls for the prosecution of the Turkish guards and even the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador to Washington.

American and Turkish officials have provided directly contrasting versions of how the violence unfolded. Local police said the Turkish guards savagely attacked a peaceful protest outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence as Erdogan was visiting. Footage of the melee showed what appeared to be Turkish security guards kicking and choking protesters as police struggled to contain the unrest. It also showed Erdogan watching, from a distance, as the fighting raged.

Erdogan’s critics seized on the bloody altercation — and a similar flash of violence during the Turkish president’s visit to Washington last year — as indicative of his government’s iron-fisted approach to protests and dissent at home.

But Turkish diplomats faulted the local police, saying they had failed to quell an “unpermitted” and “provocative” demonstration.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement Monday went even further, criticizing “the inability of U.S. authorities to take sufficient precautions at every stage of the official program.” And it demanded that the United States conduct a “full investigation of this diplomatic incident and provide the necessary explanation.”

The statement also blamed “U.S. security personnel” for “aggressive and unprofessional” actions against the Turkish foreign minister’s protective detail.

The spiraling argument appeared to sour what by all accounts had been a friendly meeting between Erdogan and President Trump before the protest. In a joint press appearance at the White House, the two leaders were full of mutual praise and spoke of hopes for a closer and more productive relationship.

But the rift has also laid bare policy disagreements, particularly over the war in Syria, that have stirred tensions between the two allies. Turkey has been angered by the Trump administration’s decision to arm a Kurdish force to fight the Islamic State militant group in Syria in partnership with the United States. Turkey says the group is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is regarded as a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.

It is not clear from the footage what set off the melee, but Turkish security guards, as well as men in suits who were standing among a pro-Erdogan contingent, can be seen attacking the protesters, including repeatedly kicking a man lying on the ground. Another video shows Erdogan himself watching the protest after emerging from his car in the ambassador’s driveway.

One of the conference chairs, Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is close to senior Turkish officials, was at the center of another recent controversy between the United States and Turkey when it emerged that a company Alptekin owned had paid former national security adviser Michael Flynn to investigate an enemy of the Turkish government.

“They think they can engage in the same sort of suppression of protest and free speech that they engage in in Turkey,” protester Flint Arthur told CNN. “They stopped us for a few minutes … but we still stayed and continued to protest Erdogan’s tyrannical regime.”

It isn’t the first time that the Turkish president’s visit to Washington turned violent. Security guards for Erdogan clashed with protesters, journalists, D.C. Police, and staff at the Brookings Institution last March during a speech he was giving at the think tank.