Startling footage ricocheted across social media Tuesday. The video shows visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards pitting themselves against pro-Kurdish protesters in a violent brawl that resulted in nine injuries. The melee erupted outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C.
Erdogan met with President Trump early Tuesday morning. Relations between Turkey and the U.S. have become increasingly strained as Erdogan demolishes his country’s secular tendencies and attempts to supplant them with Islamism. Trump and Erdogan also differ in their opinion as to the best way to defeat ISIS.
The bloody clashes between Erdogan’s supporters and opponents are unlikely to win the controversial president any points. Spectators say the protesters were demonstrating peacefully when Erdogan’s bodyguards plunged into their midst and began attacking them. In the captured footage an impeccably dressed man in a suit is seen pummeling and kicking a crouching figure.
“Yesterday we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protests,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters. “First and foremost I will say that that is not something that we will tolerate here in Washington, D.C. This is a city where people should be able to come and peacefully protest.”
The State Department was also quick to condemn the attack. “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Erdogan’s administration has been accused of jailing journalists in an attempt to quell dissent. Peaceful protests, a fiercely protected right in American society, often lead to arrests in Turkey. It’s likely that the injured protesters were spared extra pain due to the presence of American police officers.
“We are protesting (Erdogan’s) policies in Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq,” Flint Arthur of Baltimore, Maryland, told CNN. “They think they can engage in the same sort of suppression of protest and free speech that they engage in in Turkey. They stopped us for a few minutes … but we still stayed and continued to protest Erdogan’s tyrannical regime.”
It doesn’t matter what Arthur was protesting. America protects freedom of speech. On American soil, Arthur is allowed to protest whatever he wants as long he doesn’t infringe upon others’ rights. It’s disturbing that Erdogan’s bodyguards had so little control over themselves that they publicly attacked a group of innocent people.
“What we saw yesterday — a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration — is an affront to DC values and our rights as Americans,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a statement. “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.”
Despite the tense climate Trump and Erdogan were all smiles during their meeting. Mutual praise was exchanged although Erdogan also managed to slip in a few measured words. Turkey is incensed at the U.S.’ intention to arm Kurdish rebels in Syria.
“Of course Mr. Trump’s victory has led to an awakening of new expectations for Turkey and the region it is in. We know the new US administration will not let these hopes be in vain,” Erdoğan said in a veiled warning.
Erdogan’s luster won’t shield his guards from punishment. D.C. Police have already made two arrests and it’s expected that more will be forthcoming.
“The actions seen outside the Turkish Embassy yesterday in Washington, D.C. stand in contrast to the First Amendment rights and principles we work tirelessly to protect each and every day,” the police department said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
“The Metropolitan Police Department made two arrests following yesterday’s incidents and we have every intention to pursue charges against the other individuals involved. We will continue to work with our partners at the United States State Department and United States Secret Service to identify and hold all subjects accountable for their involvement in the altercation.”