Kurds, Armenians, Turkish Minorities Protest Erdogan White House Visit

People associated with the Armenian National Committee of America gather in Lafayette Square to protest the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoganto the White House on November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is hosting President Erdogan at the White House as tensions rise during Turkey's recent push …
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A coalition of Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Cypriots, and supporters organized a large protest outside of the White House on Wednesday against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with President Donald Trump.

Erdogan is in Washington for the first time since 2017, when his security detail violently assaulted Kurdish protesters demanding he respect democracy and human rights. Similar violence occurred during Erdogan’s visit to New York that year.

Erdogan is currently overseeing a Turkish military invasion of Syrian Kurdistan, or Rojava, with the help of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a mostly Arab Sunni group of fighters formed to oppose Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The FSA contains jihadi elements and videos of their activities in Rojava have revealed attacks on civilians and war crimes such as desecrating the corpses of Kurdish fighters.

The objective of the invasion, “Operation Peace Spring,” is to eradicate the indigenous Kurdish presence of Rojava and flood the region with mostly Arab Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. Kurdish organizations in the area have accused Erdogan of engaging in “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” and have accused the FSA of attacking non-Kurdish Christians and other ethnic minorities in the area.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the mostly Kurdish militia Erdogan is seeking to eradicate, is largely responsible for the defeat of the Islamic State in its caliphate “capital,” Raqqa. Ankara considers the SDF a terrorist organization indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist, U.S.-designated terror group.

Erdogan has replied to concerns of ethnic cleansing by claiming “Turkey has never committed any civilian massacre in its history,” a deliberate erasure of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides in the earth 20th Century.

The group congregating outside the White House on Wednesday waved Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, American, and other flags, including the flag of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ). The YPG makes up a significant percentage of the SDF’s forces.

The group chanted slogans like “Turkey out of Syria” and “Erdogan is ISIS,” a reference to the significant amount of evidence indicating the Islamist Erdogan government has allowed jihadists to cross into the Syrian war theater for years to join ISIS.

The group demanded the United States act against Erdogan for the long list of human rights abuses attributed to his government both inside and outside of Syria. Of particular note are the mass arrests Turks following the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, which has resulted in the extended arbitrary detention of thousands of Turks for allegedly being Kurdish terror sympathizers or supporters of Erdogan rival and Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen.

According to the Kurdish media outlet Rudaw, among the groups protesting on Wednesday were the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the America Rojava Center for Democracy (ARCDEM). Also present was the group American Friends of Kurdistan.

“We have Greeks, Armenians, Cypriots, Kurds, and, of course, Americans standing in solidarity with our Kurdish allies on the ground,” Diliman Abdulkader, the co-founder and spokesperson of the group, said in a video posted from the protests. “We urge President Trump to reconsider his decision. The Kurds have been the most reliable and trustworthy allies on the ground.”

President Trump announced in October that he would be withdrawing troops from Rojava in light of the defeat of the Islamic State, as Congress has only authorized military force against al-Qaeda and offshoots like ISIS. Erdogan invaded Rojava immediately after Trump legally withdrew, leading many to condemn Trump’s decision.

At press time, Erdogan and Trump completed their joint press availability and the protests have remained peaceful. Trump told reporters he expected to discuss expanding trade with Turkey and tentatively refused to answer if he would challenge Erdogan on the purchase of Russian missile systems that violate NATO regulations, saying he had to have the private meeting first before offering a concrete answer.

The peace outside the White House is a contrast to the violent assaults that Erdogan bodyguards perpetrated on protesters in 2017. Videos of the affair showed Kurdish protesters assembled peacefully when men in suits wearing Turkish flags begin punching and kicking them, including one middle-aged man who appeared particularly hurt when forced to the ground and receiving a barrage of kicks from several guards.

Despite the video evidence, prosecutors dropped charges on Erdogan’s bodyguards months after the incident.

Congress has expressed bipartisan condemnation of Erdogan’s Islamist assault on northern Syria. Prior to Erdogan’s arrival, 17 congressmen published a letter on Monday condemning the invasion of Rojava.

“Turkish forces have killed civilians and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a critical US partner in the fight against ISIS, and displaced over one hundred thousand people from their homes,” the letter read.

The Senate has also proposed a bill that would help human rights activists within Turkey by commanding the State Department to “provide assistance to 21 civil society organizations in Turkey that work to secure 22 the release of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in Turkey.”

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