Turkey Summons U.S. Ambassador After Police Subdue Erdogan Bodyguards Beating Protesters

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass delivers a speech during a reception to mark the upcoming U.S. Independence Day in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, July 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Adem Altan, Pool)
AP Photo/Adem Altan, Pool

Turkey summoned U.S. ambassador John Bass in Ankara on Monday to complain about “aggressive and unprofessional” actions taken by American security personnel against Turkish bodyguards in Washington D.C. last week.

The UK Independent reports that the Turkish Foreign Ministry gave the American ambassador a “written and verbal protest” and called for a “full investigation of this diplomatic incident.”

The incident in question was a brawl on Tuesday in which Turkish security personnel attacked protesters outside the Turkish embassy in Washington during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the United States. The protesters displayed flags for the Kurdish People’s Democratic Union (PYD), which the Turkish government sees as a political arm of the violent PKK separatist party.

“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 US 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,” said a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

At least eleven people were injured in the melee, according to Washington officials, most of them protesters. One of the injured was a D.C. police officer, and two U.S. Secret Service officers were reportedly assaulted during the battle. The D.C. police chief described the incident as “a brutal attack on peaceful protests.”

The D.C. police have been criticized for not doing more to control the situation, especially since bodyguards for President Erdogan have an established history of assaulting both demonstrators and journalists on American soil. The Trump administration has received criticism for not speaking out more forcefully against the actions of Turkish personnel, who appear to have flagrantly abused diplomatic immunity to attack peaceful protesters and then retreat into the safety of the Turkish embassy. 

Two members of President Erdogan’s security detail who were detained after the brawl were swiftly released after invoking diplomatic immunity; neither of the two arrests made so far were of people affiliated with the Turkish embassy.

Video of Erdogan impassively observing the melee for a few moments and then departing without doing anything to stop it has fueled suspicions he approved of the attack on demonstrators or even ordered it.

In that context, Turkey demanding an apology for how the bodyguards were treated will be taken as breathtaking arrogance. The Turkish embassy sought to blame the protesters for inciting violence, insisting they lacked the proper permits for a demonstration and claiming the Turkish bodyguards only intervened after the pro-Kurdish protesters “aggressively provoked” pro-Erdogan Turkish-Americans on the scene. The embassy has complained that American police did not respond to Turkish demands to remove the anti-Erdogan protesters on the grounds that they lacked the necessary permits for a demonstration.

“Groups affiliated with the PKK, which the U.S. and Turkey have designated as a terrorist organization, gathered yesterday without permit in Sheridan Circle in the immediate vicinity of the Ambassador’s Residence, while the President of Turkey was visiting the Residence,” said the Turkish embassy in a statement. “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 violence and injuries were the result of this unpermitted, provocative demonstration.”

The Washington Free Beacon points to video evidence that Erdogan supporters initiating the violence, and the bodyguards did not attack until after D.C. police had separated the two groups.

Some of the demonstrators assaulted by Turkish personnel were women. One bodyguard was caught on video administering a brutal headlock to a woman named Ceren Borazan, a New Jersey resident of Kurdish extraction. Borazan said the headlock was powerful enough to cause a blood vessel in her left eye to pop. Another female protester, Lucy Usoyan, said the Turkish bodyguards “were beating me in the head.”

“My Kurdish friends and allies were protesting peacefully against Erdogan being in Washington when were [sic] suddenly attacked by a group of Erdogan’s official bodyguards and secret police. They attacked women, children and elderly with reckless abandon,” Borazan wrote on Facebook.

Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kilic, was summoned to the State Department on Friday to meet with Undersecretary Thomas Shannon and discuss the embassy brawl.

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