A brawl between supporters of President Erdogan of Turkey and his critics erupted in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, drawing sharp criticism from political leaders in the United States.
11 people were wounded in the melee, including a police officer, as the pro-Erdogan group rushed an organized protest outside of the Turkish embassy. Two Secret Service agents were also assaulted as law enforcement authorities attempted to control the scene.
Turkey has blamed the protest, and ensuing assault, on groups associated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a known terrorist group labeled as such by Turkey and the United States. This is disputed by local American law enforcement, who says they were simply peaceful protesters.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert released a statement saying “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.”
The idea that the violence was a spontaneous reaction to PKK-affiliated protestors on behalf of patriotic Turks falls short when it was confirmed that members of President Erdogan’s own security detail were involved in the brawl. President Trump had just met with Erdogan earlier that day at the White House, where the topic of arming the Kurds in Syria took priority.
MPD Statement regarding incident outside Turkish Embassy yesterday pic.twitter.com/ELRi0szlrA
— DC Police Department (@DCPoliceDept) May 17, 2017
Erdogan and his government are known for stifling free speech and journalism in Turkey, especially since a failed coup last summer has given justification for increased police powers.
In the video of the mob attack, men in dark suits are seen punching and kicking people, including after they have already fallen to the ground. A video of one particular assault made its way onto Twitter, showing a man choking a woman from behind, reportedly saying “you’re dead” to her in Turkish.
Many American politicians have condemned this seemingly state-sanctioned form of political violence in the United States.
This is the United States of America. We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior. https://t.co/WsIln8gOX5
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) May 17, 2017
The Anadolu Agency, a Turkish state-run media organization, reportedly blamed the violence on D.C. metropolitan police, for being unable to stop the guards from responding to terrorist sympathizers.
Image courtesy of Voice of America