On May 16, 2017, during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit with President Doanld Trump in the White House, Erdogan’s bodyguards viciously attacked Kurdish and Armenian protesters, who had gathered outside the residence of Turkey’s Ambassador in Washington, DC. Nine demonstrators were seriously injured.
According to Harry Jaffe’s recent article in the Washingtonian, at June 14 news conference, Washington D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said: “’rarely have I seen in my 28 years of policing the type of thing I saw in Sheridan Circle.’ The House of Representatives approved a resolution, 397–0, calling ‘for perpetrators to be brought to justice and measures to be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.’”
Last July, a federal grand jury charged with assault 19 members of Erdogan’s bodyguards, most of whom had diplomatic immunity. As a result, they could not be arrested and were allowed to fly back to Turkey. Two Turkish-Americans were arrested and later sentenced to a year and a day in jail. Several months after this incident, the charges against most of Erdogan’s bodyguards were dropped on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey.
Fortunately, a group of Washington, D.C. lawyers were so outraged by the attacks and escape of Erdogan’s bodyguards back to Turkey that they decided last week to sue the Turkish government as well as two Turkish-Americans and three Turkish-Canadians for “violations of international law and hate crimes, as well as assault, battery and false imprisonment.” On May 3, another American law firm filed a separate lawsuit by five of the protesters against Turkey.
“With the U.S. government unable or unwilling to obtain justice for the Sheridan Circle victims, a group of D.C. lawyers set out to do so themselves,” Jaffe reported.
“Douglas Bregman had little inkling of the riot, let alone what had provoked it. But what he saw on the news that night horrified him: ‘This guy [Erdogan] gets to come to our country, speak to the President at the White House, then send his thugs to bloody up American citizens just for speaking out?’” Jaffe noted.
Jaffe added: “Bregman, 68, runs a civil-practice law firm in Bethesda. Originally from suburban Philadelphia, he got a law degree from Georgetown University in the 1970s and put down roots. He lectures there and at Columbia University law school. Having participated in protests during the 1960s, he sees a need to defend freedom of speech from threats ‘like abuse of power,’ he says. Bregman phoned one of his associates, Andreas Akaras, a litigator at Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz and Gilday. ‘Did you see what happened today at Sheridan Circle?’ he asked. Akaras had joined Bregman’s firm after seven years as an aide to Maryland congressman John Sarbanes. He’d worked on a range of issues related to southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean and developed contacts in Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. Bregman asked him to investigate whether any legal restitution was available to the victims.”
Bregman then contacted fellow longtime D.C. attorney Steve Perles. “I have this case that will rely on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [FSIA],” Bregman said. “You’re the guy who can do it.” Perles has a long experience successfully suing Germany for Holocaust reparations and Iran and Libya to pay for damages for “terrorist acts.”
Jaffe’s piece went on: “Working with Bregman and Akaras, Perles is preparing to file suit for hundreds of millions in damages from the Republic of Turkey. ‘Any foreign head of state who unleashes his security force against US citizens exercising their lawful rights on US soil has no protection under FSIA,’ Perles says. Other lawyers agree. A team headed by Agnieszka Fryszman of Cohen Milstein filed a victim-impact statement representing 13 victims of the Sheridan Circle attack, including Murat Yasa and Heewa Arya. The legal team has added Michael Tigar, who successfully sued the government of Chile for assassinating Orlando Letelier with a car bomb at Sheridan Circle in 1976… Tigar says students at American University law school are putting together the case against Turkey. He’s confident in its strength. ‘It took 16 years, but we got to get $4 million from Chile,’ he says.”
“Somebody needs to be punished. We are willing to put in the time and resources to push back against a fascist government so our clients are vindicated. It is well worth the effort,” Bregman has said about the suit.
As Spencer S. Hsu indicated in his Washington Post article, under U.S. law, the Turkish government may contest, settle, or refuse to defend against the suits. “In a refusal, a judge could enter a default judgment for the protesters,” noted Hsu.