Erdogan Doubles Down on Denial as D.C. Police Issue Arrest Warrants for Turkish Government Security Detail
WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed, as a meaningful step toward justice, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s and Police Chief Peter Newsham’s in-depth investigation that led to 18 arrest warrants—including a dozen against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards—in connection to the May 16 attacks on peaceful protesters outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence.
“We commend the efforts of Mayor Bowser, Chief Newsham and all the law enforcement agencies involved in taking this step toward bringing the perpetrators to justice, and look forward to continuing to work with the relevant authorities to identify all involved,” said ANCA Exective Director Aram Hamparian. “Law enforcement is doing its part; now it’s time for the Trump Administration to take action and demand that Turkey lift any claims to diplomatic immunity for those involved in this crime, so that criminal proceedings can move forward and justice can be served.”
During a June 15 press conference, Mayor Bowser stated “I condemn this attack. It was an affront to our values as Washingtonians and as Americans and it was a clear assault on the first amendment.”
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham announced the names of the dozen members of Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail who have been charged with the attacks. Two Turkish-Americans have already been arrested for assault, and two Turkish Canadians have also been charged.
In response to a question from the Armenian Weekly, Chief Newsham acknowledged that investigators are looking into the role of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the May 16 attack, but indicated that, despite the available video and other evidence, there is not yet sufficient probable cause to seek his arrest.
“We have dignitaries that are in and out of this city on a daily basis. Rarely have I seen, in my almost 28 years of policing, the type of thing that I saw on Sheridan Circle on that particular day,” said Chief Newsham. “You had peaceful demonstrators that were physically assaulted and the message to folks who are going to come to our city either from another state or from another country is that’s not going to be tolerated in Washington, D.C.”
The complete press conference can be viewed below (via the ANCA YouTube channel).
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) commended D.C. police on issuing the arrest warrants, and called on the State Department to “double down on efforts to help bring these individuals to justice.”
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) applauded the D.C. Police decision to follow up with the filing of criminal charges. “This sends an important message that while violence and repression have become the norm in Erdogan’s Turkey, they remain unacceptable here. Bringing these thugs to justice will ultimately require the State Department to prioritize this issue with Turkey, and I will be urging them to ensure that those charged today face justice,” Schiff said in a statement.”
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) tweeted that he is “encouraged that Turkish security who violated the rights of peaceful protesters in D.C. will face justice.”
According to the Associated Press, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the charges “send a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression.” Secretary Tillerson did not specify what further action the Trump Administration would take in the matter. The US could seek extradition of Erdogan’s security detail or bar their return to the United States.
Hours after the arrest warrants were issued, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass and, according to a press statement, “emphasized that the decision, which clearly was not taken as a result of an impartial and independent investigation, is unacceptable.”
President Erdogan later reacted to the news, asking, “What kind of a law is this? … If they [bodyguards] are not going to protect me, why would I bring them with me to America?” Erdogan vowed to fight the charges leveled against his bodyguards.
“Erdogan is doubling down on denial,” said the ANCA’s Hamparian. “Drawing on the same playbook Ankara has used in Washington since the time of the Armenian Genocide, he is—against all evidence—blaming the victim and trying to bully everyone else into silence.”
“This time, in a fit of unprecedented anger and arrogance, Erdogan’s openly insulting U.S. law enforcement and unapologetically assuming for himself the right to deny Americans our inalienable rights and Constitutional freedoms,” continued Hamparian. “Having intimidated U.S. leaders into silence on the Armenian Genocide, basically enforcing a foreign gag-rule on what we can say about our own American history, he’s now targeting our values, telling us when we can and cannot speak out as U.S. citizens.”
Hamparian was videotaping live at the scene of the May 16 attack, which took place in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence where President Erdogan was scheduled to have a closed-door meeting with representatives of The Atlantic Council, a leading think tank in Washington, D.C., which receives funding from Turkey. Hamparian’s video showed pro-Erdogan forces crossing a police line and beating peaceful protesters–elderly men and several women–who were on the ground bleeding during most of the attack.
Hamparian testified before a Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on this matter on May 25. Joining him at the hearing were Ms. Lusik Usoyan, Founder and President of the Ezidi Relief Fund; Mr. Murat Yusa, a local businessman and protest organizer; and Ms. Ruth Wedgwood, Edward B. Burling Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Usoyan and Yusa were victims of the brutal assault on May 16 by President Erdogan’s bodyguards.
On June 6, with a vote of 397 to 0, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously condemned Turkey in response to the attacks, taking a powerful stand against Ankara’s attempts to export its violence and intolerance to America’s shores. H.Res.354, spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), has received the public backing of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). A companion measure has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
The House vote follows broad-based Congressional outrage expressed by over 100 Senate and House members through public statements, social media, and a series of Congressional letters.
Senate and House members have also raised concerns about the recently announced $1.2 million sale of semi-automatic guns slated for use by Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail, many of whom participated in the May 16 attacks. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce have already objected to the sale.
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Dave Trott (R-Mich.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) are urging colleagues to co-sign a letter to Secretary Tillerson to block the gun sale to Turkey. The ANCA has also started on online campaign, urging citizens to contact legislators to cosign the letter.
ANCA live footage of the attack served as source video for CNN, AP, The Washington Post, The Daily Caller and other major media, transforming the violent incident into a global spotlight on Erdogan’s attempt to export his intolerance and aggression to American shores.
The Sunday, June 4 edition of The New York Times featured a two-page center-spread investigative report on the May 16th attack, with online version of the coverage translated to Turkish and shared widely on social media. The ANCA is cited by The New York Times as a source for this report.
The May 16 protest in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence was a continuation of a demonstration held earlier in the day in front of the White House, co-hosted by the ANCA. As President Trump met with President Erdogan. Human rights and religious rights groups were joined by representatives of the Kurdish, Yezidi and Armenian communities to call attention to the Erdogan regime’s escalating repression against free press, the Kurdish and other ethnic communities, as well as Turkey’s ongoing obstruction of justice for the Armenian Genocide.