Turkish Embassy calls violent clash with protesters in DC 'self-defense'

Turkish Embassy calls violent clash with protesters in DC 'self-defense'
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The Turkish Embassy in Washington said on Wednesday that bodyguards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were acting in “self-defense” when they were involved in a violent clash in front of the ambassador’s residence the day before and were aiming to fight off violent protesters tied to a terrorist group.
 
The statement contradicts D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, who said earlier on Wednesday that the violence against protesters was unprovoked.
 
The conflict, which happened during rush hour on Tuesday, has sparked outrage from U.S. lawmakers and officials who raised concerns about violating the First Amendment rights of protesters. The incident compares to another clash between Turkish security and protesters last year.
 
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On Wednesday, though, the Turkish Embassy released a statement placing the blame on “groups affiliated with the PKK” — referring to the left-wing group Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is designated as a terrorist group by NATO, the United States and the European Union.
 
The Turkish Embassy said that protesters tied to those groups were not authorized to protest and had not obtained a permit.
 
A protest leader, according to The Washington Post, denied that anyone involved had any ties or sympathies to the PKK. 
  
“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 Turkish release continued.
 
The Metropolitan Police Department, contacted by The Hill, said that the incident is under investigation and that a cause to the fighting could not yet be determined.
 
“We intend to assure that there is accountability for anyone involved in this assault,” Newsham said at the department’s press conference earlier in the day. “Yesterday we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protests.”
 
What happened on Tuesday is “not something we will tolerate here in Washington, D.C.,” Newsham said.
 
Part of the reason that police officers noticeably struggled to gain control over the situation, Newsham said, is that the Turkish security officers beating protesters were armed.
 
“The violence and injuries were the result of this unpermitted, provocative demonstration. We hope that, in the future, appropriate measures will be taken to ensure that similar provocative actions causing harm and violence do not occur,” the Turkish Embassy said in its statement.
 
Video captured from Voice of America showed men in suits — Erdogan’s personal guards — punching protesters and, in one case, body-slamming a woman into the grass. 
 
The men were also seen kicking some individuals that had fallen to the ground, and others stumbling and bloodied. 
 
The crowd devolved from one massive group to smaller skirmishes in the traffic circle near the ambassador’s residence. Nine people were taken to the hospital but ultimately released. 
 
Washington, D.C., police officers can be seen running toward the melee and trying to stop the flying punches as well as attempting to pull people apart — including brawling security guards and protesters. Other officers are seen hitting individuals with batons and two individuals appear to be handcuffed on the ground.
 
Two people were arrested following the incident, but diplomatic immunity likely protects any of Erdogan’s guards from penalty.
  
There had been hours of peaceful protest that occurred before the melee, according to The Washington Post and The New York Times. Those in attendance were largely demonstrating their discontent with Erdogan’s increasingly oppressive government and moves to consolidate his power. 
  
Other protesters oppose the Turkish government’s views on ethnic groups like the Kurds, which have been a target of Erdogan’s administration. 
 
President Trump’s administration earlier this year inflamed tensions with Turkey, a NATO ally, by agreeing to arm Kurds in Syria — a militia group known as the YPG — in an attempt to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The move, which has long been desired by the U.S. military, is vigorously opposed by Turkey. The country views Syria’s Kurds as the same as the Turkish Kurds, who are part of the PKK.
 
However, Trump has since welcomed Erdogan in the Oval Office.
 
Since a failed military coup last year, Erdogan has cracked down on opposition, jailing anyone he thinks is connected to the plot. More than 100,000 have been detained since last July — including judges, military generals, civil servants and journalists.
 
Events this week are not the first time that the Turkish government has been involved in spontaneous violence in Washington.
 
While Erdogan gave a speech inside the Brookings Institution last year, his security team responded violently toward protesters who held signs outside the think tank. Signs called the Turkish president a “fascist murderer” and urged him to “stop Turkish aggression.” Again, many protesters were Kurds.
 
Erdogan’s bodyguards, the Bookings Institution wrote in a blog post after the event, “behaved unacceptably.”
 
“Hypersensitivity to criticism was ... on full display outside Brookings that day,” the post reads. “Erdogan’s security detail behaved unacceptably—they roughed up protesters outside the building and tried to drag away ‘undesired’ journalists, an approach typical of the Russians or Chinese.
 
“The president and his security detail clearly failed to recognize the protests for what they were: a natural and accepted activity in a democracy rather than an imagined conspiracy against Turkey.”