In remarks from Ankara on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was harshly critical of the U.S. arrest warrants for twelve of his bodyguards.
“What kind of law is this? If my bodyguards cannot protect me then why am I bringing them to America with me?” Erdogan exclaimed, as reported by Hurriyet Daily News.
Washington, DC, police issued warrants for the bodyguards on Thursday, at a press conference decorated with photos of the men stamped “WANTED” in red. The charges involve assault against protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in D.C. on May 16, during Erdogan’s visit to the United States.
“We all saw the violence that was perpetrated against peaceful protesters, and it’s not something that we’re going to tolerate,” said D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham. He added that the suspects are all believed to have returned to Turkey and are thus unlikely to land in an American courtroom unless they surrender themselves, but he stated they would be arrested if the ever return to the United States. The U.S. State Department has not ruled out demanding their extradition.
In his remarks, Erdogan claimed the protesters were all affiliated with the violent separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which is the Turkish government’s name for the followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, currently a resident of Pennsylvania. The Turkish government insists Gulen is the mastermind behind last year’s unsuccessful coup attempt against Erdogan.
“The U.S. police did nothing. Can you imagine what the response would have been if a similar incident had taken place in Turkey?” Erdogan asked, insinuating that the protesters were a threat to his safety. It’s something of a trick question because it is not very difficult to imagine how Erdogan’s security forces would respond to a protest by suspected PKK and FETO members that got within 50 feet him.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador John Bass on Thursday to declare the arrest warrants against Erdogan’s bodyguards “unacceptable.” The statement repeated Erdogan’s allegations that local security authorities were at fault.
“This incident would not have occurred if the US authorities had taken the usual measures they take in similar high-level visits and therefore that Turkish citizens cannot be held responsible for the incident that took place,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The UK Guardian quotes Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Bulent Aliriza, who stressed the Turks are very serious about the matter and worried the U.S. relationship with Turkey could suffer significant damage if the warrants are allowed to stand.
“There will be demands for action that may ultimately damage the diplomatic relationship to the point of ambassadors being yanked back, which is unprecedented,” Aliriza said.