Americans are incensed by a brutal attack by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bodyguards on protesters even now, months later. Politicians joined the victims to express their outrage at a rally in Washington.
Two months after bodyguards in the service of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brutally attacked anti-Erdogan demonstrators in Washington, members of the US Congress joined victims of the attack in a "Stand for Free Speech" rally at Sheridan Circle in the capital. Five bipartisan members of Congress and about 50 protestors from Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian groups met in front of the Turkish ambassador's residence to reaffirm their right to free speech and stand up for press freedom in Turkey.
"American soil is free soil," Republican Congressman Ted Poe told the crowd. "The idea that a foreign tyrant can come to the USA and allow his goons to beat up Americans on American soil is preposterous. The Turkish government is responsible for this action."
Lucy Usoyan, founder and president of the Ezidi Relief Fund, a non-governmental organization that advocates for refugees in Kurdish regions of Turkey and Syria, is one of several anti-Erdogan protestors who were attacked on May 16. Usoyan was knocked unconscious, but was later able to identify a New Jersey man as one of her attackers. He has been charged with a hate crime, a classification of crime that increases penalties in sentencing.
Usoyan wants President Erdogan to apologize to US citizens for what his bodyguards did. "They must be held accountable," said Usoyan. "They have to be extradited for prosecution and sentencing."
Democratic Congressman John Sarbanes reiterated that freedom of speech is a fundamental part of democracy. "We want to remind Erdogan that in this country, we have a constitution that allows us to speak freely without fear of being beaten up," Sarbanes said.
Attack made Americans take notice
"Freedom is something that people are born with, and Erdogan cannot simply take it away," Usoyan added. Usoyan suffered a concussion and was hospitalized. She said she was glad the trials of the attackers were bringing attention to what she considered the bleak conditions of human rights and free speech in Turkey. She was shocked and horrified that this violent incident had to happen on US soil for people to notice.
In June, 18 arrest warrants were issued for alleged attackers, including a dozen for Turkish bodyguards, two for Turkish-Americans and two for Turkish-Canadians. In response to the May 16 melee, the German government indicated that Erdogan's bodyguards would not be welcome at the G20 Summit in Hamburg.
One of the accused, a Turkish-American named Sinan Narin, is currently on trial in the District of Columbia for aggravated and misdemeanor assault. On his Facebook page, Turkish social media users have praised Narin as a "hero," and said he was "defending" President Erdogan. The Turkish embassy's Facebook page has since been filled with one-star reviews, with many users calling for expulsion of the Turkish ambassador to the United States.
The Turkish Embassy alleged that the demonstrators were associated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Protestors denied this allegation.
This incident is not the first time that Erdogan's bodyguards have found themselves in trouble in Washington. A Brookings Institute event in 2016 that featured Erdogan also ended with Erdogan's bodyguards beating up Brookings staff and journalists.
Turkey's relations with the US and the European Union have been strained for some time. Last year's failed coup, the dire situation for journalists in Turkey, and Erdogan's recent statement vowing to "behead" traitors, leave the country facing a turning point in its relationship with democracy, and with other nations.
Germany said on Thursday it was reorienting its relationship with Turkey after a court in Istanbul ordered six human rights activists, including a German man from Berlin, detained on suspicion of supporting terrorism. Turkey will face a further test next week, when parliament will vote on whether to authorize the death penalty.