For weeks, Turkey’s diplomatic corps, Ankara-sponsored lobbying firms in Washington D.C., and friendly journalists worked hard to lay the groundwork for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the U.S.
The expanded public relations campaign focused on polishing President Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian image in the U.S., placed additional emphasis on central themes of hard-nosed realpolitik, the need for deeper cooperation against terrorism and etc.
But whatever the Turkish side did to present a benevolent Erdogan image to an American audience already alarmed with their own emerging authoritarian figure in D.C., ugly scenes of violence outside the Turkish Embassy solidified the perception that the Turks tried to bury, spurring a bipartisan scolding and disdain across the political spectrum in the U.S.
President Erdogan’s guards and officials working for the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., involved in a brawl with a group of protesters outside the embassy. A group of Kurdish and Armenian protesters tried to voice their disapproval and criticism for President Erdogan’s policies against Turkey’s Kurds.
Erdogan's bodyguards beat up Kurdish protesters in D.C. Just imagine what we are going through back in Turkey. https://t.co/4UhOfS27WJ
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) May 17, 2017
But their peaceful protest met with a violent intervention by the embassy staff and Mr. Erdogan’s personal bodyguards who brutally beat down protesters, kicking women on the ground.
D.C. metropolitan police were unable to contain the violence and control the Turkish security personnel. Two of the bodyguards have been detained, the police announced.
“We intend to assure that there is accountability for anyone involved in this assault,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told media. He also said the police are working closely with the State Department and the Secret Service, which provides protection for visiting foreign delegations.
“Yesterday we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protests. First and foremost I will say that that is not something that we will tolerate in Washington, D.C.,” Police Chief Newsham said.
Necmi Ayten, Woodside, N.Y., who works as an Embassy Security personnel, was charged with aggravated assault, the New York Times reported. Protester Jalal Kheirabaoi, Fairfax, Va., faces the charge of assaulting a police officer.
“We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement, condemning the beating of protesters. The Department described it as an attack on free speech and said the action would not be tolerated.
Whatever President Erdogan’s expectations for the high-profile meeting with Mr. Trump, the political maelstrom engulfed the American capital served as a distraction that steered the media attention into latest leaks that placed the White House in a delicate spot. President Erdogan put great stock in the meeting to work through dividing issues that strained the bilateral relationship.
The extradition of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, the case of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab whom Mr. Erdogan has close ties, and the rift over U.S. decision to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters were on Mr. Erdogan’s agenda. No word released over to what extent both sides reached an accord over any of those divisive issues.
Besides warm welcome by the American president who elbowed aside concerns over Mr. Erdogan’s crackdown on democracy and his opponents, there appeared to be no tangible success for the visiting Turkish leader.
The recent leaks over President Trump’s share of highly classified intelligence with Russians during a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last week, and his urge to former FBI Director James Comey to halt the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn dominated media spotlight.
In that context, there was little attention paid to the Turkish president who lavishly praised Mr. Trump during the brief press conference.
More than his meeting with President Trump at Oval Office, the scenes of violence captured the attention of the American public, mostly in disapproving terms with full-throated disdain over ‘thuggish acts’ by members of a foreign delegation in the middle of the American capital.
American senators, journalists, and human rights advocacy groups reacted in unison to denounce the violence against the protesters.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce's letter to Tillerson and Sessions on beating up of protesters. pic.twitter.com/DuAVTdUFXP
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) May 17, 2017
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking to “bring all appropriate criminal charges before these individuals leave the United States.”
“Agents of foreign governments should never be immune from prosecution for felonious behavior,” he underlined in his letter.
Not the first time either. Why is Erdogan allowed to bring goons with him into the United States? https://t.co/uhSV92Mdyt
— David Frum (@davidfrum) May 17, 2017
According to D.C. police, at least 9 people have been injured in the attack by the Turkish guards. Among the injured, there were 2 Secret Service members caught in the violent episode that rattled the American media.
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
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, condemned the attack on protesters, expressing his outmost fury.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power also appeared to be appalled by the outbreak of altercation outside the Turkish Embassy.
Clearly Erdogan's guards feel complete impunity, drawing on tools of repression they use at home & knowing he has their back,no matter what https://t.co/jq1tFHwv35
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) May 17, 2017