D.C. Police Chief: Trying to Stop Protester Assaults Was 'Very Dicey' Because Turks Had Guns
WASHINGTON -- The D.C. police chief confessed today that his cops were wary going up against armed security of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even as the suited men attacked protesters assembled across the street from the Turkish ambassador's residence on Tuesday afternoon.
And the Turkish Embassy finally spoke out on the violent incident, blaming the Kurdish demonstrators for "provoking" Turks with their "unpermitted" protest.
Video from Voice of America Turkish, below, and other sources shows the pro-Erdoğan forces breaking through loose police lines and charging into the small crowd of demonstrators, hitting people and kicking those taken to the ground.
— Amerika'nın Sesi (@VOATurkish) May 17, 2017
At a press conference this afternoon, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham vowed "to pursue everything that's within our legal power to hold the folks that were responsible accountable for their action."
"We intend to ensure there was accountability for anyone who was involved in this assault," he said, while acknowledging that diplomatic immunity may hamper that quest.
"We have very good video. We have a good idea of some of the folks that were there on the scene. We're very comfortable that we will be able to identify most of the assailants," the chief added, noting that the department is working with the Secret Service and State Department to identify the attackers and putting out a call for anyone with additional video footage of the incident to hand it over to law enforcement.
While the video shows some cops using their batons and pushing Turks away from the protesters, Newsham argued "police involvement in that case was very dicey because there were some people up there that had firearms, and they had to safely restore order."
"Thankfully, that was done without more significant injury," he added.
Protesters including Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Yazidis, Assyrians and more began their demonstration at noon across the street from the White House in Lafayette Square before moving to the ambassador's residence. Before the attack, demonstrators were chanting and holding up signs demanding the release of Selahattin Demirtaş, chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the party's 2014 presidential candidate, who was arrested by the Erdoğan regime in November.
Video from before the melee shows Turkish officials arguing with police that the Kurds weren't permitted to protest, while the protesters yelled that the Turks were terrorists.
The Turkish Embassy declared that the Kurds in the demonstration were affiliated with terrorists and gathered "without permit in Sheridan Circle in the immediate vicinity of the Ambassador’s residence, while the president of Turkey was visiting the residence."
"The demonstrators began aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens who had peacefully assembled to greet the president. The Turkish-Americans responded in self-defense and one of them was seriously injured," the embassy statement continued. "The violence and injuries were the result of this unpermitted, provocative demonstration."
"We hope that, in the future, appropriate measures will be taken to ensure that similar provocative actions causing harm and violence do not occur."
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that the U.S. is "concerned by the violent incidents involving protestors and Turkish security personnel" as "violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest."
"We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms," she added.
The White House refused to comment, deferring to the State Department.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions today demanding action against the men in suits filmed "viciously beat multiple individuals, throwing them to the ground and kicking them in the head."
"Numerous news reports indicate these individuals were members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail who accompanied him on his official state visit this week. Alarmingly, this behavior is indicative of the broad crackdowns on political activists, journalists and religious freedom in Turkey that have greatly harmed Turkish democracy in recent years," Royce wrote.
"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," he added. "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."
In the upper chamber, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a joint statement "strongly" condemning the violence.
The reported involvement of Turkish officials in assaulting protesters, they said, "violates the most basic rules of diplomacy and is an affront to the United States and the value we place on the right to free speech, as embodied in our Constitution."
"It is even more concerning coming from one of our own NATO allies," the senators added. "We call upon the Turkish government to apologize immediately for the involvement of any officials.”