They stood peacefully waiting for Turkey’s president to show up at the embassy in Washington, D.C.
Shortly after his meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s convoy drove across town to their country’s embassy on Massachusetts Avenue.
Credit: Embassy of Turkey Twitter
Moments after passing the embassy’s guards, those who stood peacefully in front of the diplomatic mission, started chanting anti-Erdogan slogans.
President Erdogan’s bodyguards could hear it. They could see the protestors and their placards– and decided to “disperse them.”
What happened next has been described by the DC Police Department’s Chief as a “brutal attack” on peaceful protesters.
In video captured by the Voice of America, a handful of Erdogan’s supporters and his security detail rushed the demonstrators and started hitting them.
“As a result of the assault, 11 people and one police officer were injured,” said Peter Newsham, Metropolitan Police Department chief.
In the video, D.C. police officers can be seen struggling to protect the small group of protestors who had gathered to speak out against Erdogan’s authoritarian policies.
As the violence broke out, videos from the confrontation quickly spread on social media showing Erdogan’s bodyguards pummeling people, even kicking people in the face.
“What we saw yesterday – a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration – is an affront to DC values and our rights as Americans,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
Statement on Attack Against Peaceful Demonstrators Outside Turkish Ambassador’s Residence: https://t.co/8aKQa4pR2Y
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) May 17, 2017
The D.C. Police Department issued a statement saying they were working with the State Department and Secret Service to “identify and hold all subjects accountable for their involvement in the altercation.”
MPD Statement regarding incident outside Turkish Embassy yesterday pic.twitter.com/ELRi0szlrA
— DC Police Department (@DCPoliceDept) May 17, 2017
Two men were arrested at the scene, and police say they intend to pursue charges against others involved as well.
“Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech. We support the rights of people everywhere to free expression & peaceful protest. pic.twitter.com/MEm4jSmCXV
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) May 17, 2017
Witnesses described what happened at the scene.
“All of the sudden they just ran towards us,” Yazidi Kurd demonstrator Lucy Usoyan told WJLA. “Someone was beating me in the head nonstop,” she said. “And I thought, ‘okay I’m on the ground already, what is the purpose to beat me?'”
— Amerika’nın Sesi (@VOATurkish) May 17, 2017
The Turkish Embassy released a statement claiming the protesters were “aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens who had peacefully assembled to greet the president,” and thus caused Erdogan’s supporters to respond in self-defense.
“We weren’t doing anything wrong,” said pro-Erdogan demonstrator Mustafa Dikilitas. “We just celebrated our President.”
Turkey also accused the protesters of belonging to a terror group known as the PKK.
“Groups affiliated with the PKK, which the U.S. and Turkey have designated as a terrorist organization, gathered yesterday without permit in Sheridan Circle in the immediate vicinity of the Ambassador’s Residence, while the President of Turkey was visiting the Residence,” the embassy said in a statement.
Several Republican lawmakers shot back decrying the violence and demanding that Turkey apologize for the incident.
Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Ben Cardin, and Tom Cotton issued the following statement:
“We strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday (Tuesday, May 16 – Ed.) outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington,” the senators said in a statement Wednesday.
“Reports indicate that some Turkish officials were involved in assaulting protesters, which violates the most basic rules of democracy and is an affront to the United States and the value we place on the right to free speech, as embodied in our Constitution. We call upon the Turkish government to apologize immediately for the involvement of any officials,” said the statement.
Sen. John McCain also chimmed in calling for the Turkish ambassador to be removed from the U.S.
“We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America,” McCain told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday.
Turkish security guards’ attack on peaceful protesters this wk was a despicable display of thuggery & repression – absolutely unacceptable pic.twitter.com/NQL0KychH4
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) May 18, 2017
“This is the United States of America. This isn’t Turkey; this isn’t a third-world country; and this kind of thing cannot go un-responded to diplomatically.”