Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdoğan’s planned visit to Washington this week is raising concerns about a repeat of violent protests from his 2017 trip, as recent court documents provide new details about the clashes between U.S. and Turkish security personnel.
Over a dozen Turkish security officials were first identified by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) two years ago as instigating violence against protesters who were demonstrating outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence during Erdoğan’s last visit to Washington, D.C., though charges were dropped against most of them.
The security officials left the country before they could be arrested. They were delivered to a waiting flight at Joint Base Andrews by State Department diplomatic security and Secret Service. One agent described it as the fastest “joint move and departure I’ve ever seen in my 16 years on the job,” according to a memo sent to the State Department the day after the clashes.
The memo was included in court documents in a lawsuit against Turkey on behalf of the victims of the attacks and details violent outbursts against both civilians and U.S. security personnel who are charged with coordinating protection for foreign dignitaries with visiting security officers.
“These guys are out of control,” said Agnieszka M. Fryszman, a partner at Cohen Milstein, a firm representing five people in a lawsuit against Turkey for the assault on protesters 2½ years ago.
“This case is really important for the rights of American citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights in the United States, and it was just kind of a shocking, shocking disrespect for our Constitution and our citizens by Turkey,” Fryszman said.
Turkey is claiming immunity from the lawsuit, arguing that its agents acted in defense of Erdoğan.
High definition video and cellphone recordings captured the most brazen attacks, with Turkish security officers sprinting at protesters, surrounding them and beating women and elderly men. At least 11 people were taken to the hospital and plaintiffs in the lawsuit detail long-term injuries, including physical pain, memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Included in the lawsuit are State Department memos, written from the point of view of three U.S. security officers tasked with guarding Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
They detail Turkish security officers attacking both civilians and U.S. security agents in multiple instances, sometimes simultaneously, over the course of the afternoon of May 16, 2017, including the attack near the ambassador’s residence and then fighting outside the Turkish Embassy.
Two Diplomatic Security special agents, six U.S. Secret Service officers and one MPD officer sustained multiple injuries, with at least one taken to the hospital.
“I looked up from the fight I was involved,” wrote one diplomatic security agent, “and saw a second fight taking place with another Turkish security personnel who was being flexi-cuffed and subdued for assaulting more U.S. police.”
En route to the Turkish Embassy, U.S. security agents later described how seven Turkish security officials jumped out of the diplomatic convoy transporting Çavuşoğlu to attack a lone, female protester.
“I observed 7 Turkish ‘Suit and tie’ security personnel (one female and 6 males) dismount their passenger van in an all-out sprint running directly toward the single female protestor,” the agent wrote. “[T]he female protestor eventually ran away and escaped being assaulted.”
The fighting intensified among all security personnel when they reached the Turkish Embassy, instigated when a Turkish officer slapped the hand of a Diplomatic Security agent over which bags belonged to the foreign minister in the trunk of a limousine.
“In an instant, the gaggle of officers and agents went down to the ground in a physical altercation,” the agent wrote. The fight ended with two Turkish security officers handcuffed, one having his weapon seized, and Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Serdar Kilic negotiating for their release.
“Ambassador Kilic asked me if I could find a way to have the Turkish security officers released by ‘looking past’ what had happened and allowing them to fly back to Turkey as scheduled,” the agent wrote.
After about an hour and a half, U.S. security personnel released the Turkish officials and accompanied the convoys toward Joint Base Andrews, with the security officers, the Turkish president and the foreign minister, leaving the country.
The agent in charge, who was responsible for the safety of the foreign minister over the course of the day, said the minister departed with one final criticism, blaming the U.S. agents for the violence.
He “said that ‘this was not good’ and that he was told by Turkish officials that [Diplomatic Security] agents were the main cause of the incident,” the agent wrote. “I informed the FM that this was indeed a regrettable incident, however, not one that DS agents bear responsibility for.”
The U.S. Secret Service and MPD declined to comment on security precautions ahead of Erdoğan’s visit on Wednesday.
Erdoğan’s upcoming visit has drawn outrage from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who have condemned the Turkish president for launching an offensive into northeastern Syria, attacking U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, compromising the fight against ISIS, instigating a humanitarian disaster in the region and empowering Islamist forces committing war crimes.
The meeting between Trump and Erdoğan will likely be contentious. Erdoğan is reportedly prepared to bring up the case of Halkbank, the Turkish, state-owned bank under indictment in the Southern District Court of New York for facilitating the movement of about $20 billion to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Erdoğan and his son-in-law, Turkey’s minister of finance and treasury, could also be implicated in the trial, said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish Parliament.
Other issues the Turkish president will likely focus on is House-passed legislation calling for sanctions on Turkey and detailed accounts of Erdoğan and his family’s finances.
“Any congressional exposé of the Erdoğan clan’s extraordinary wealth could prove to be embarrassing. So, the Turkish president needs Trump to block any such reporting activity from going forward,” Erdemir said.
But one thing Erdoğan’s opponents say he won’t be able to prevent is their right to protest his visit. Armenian, Kurdish and Yazidi groups are already planning demonstrations for mid-week.
Lucy Usoyan, who was attacked in 2017 and is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against Turkey, said she plans on participating in the protests.
“This is all we have left, we have our First Amendment right to free speech,” she said. “We the people we have to rise up for our values and for our rights before we lose that all as well.”