Police in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday they are investigating Tuesday’s violent clash between demonstrators, some of them Armenian Americans, and guards traveling with visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Washington Post reported that two people with direct knowledge of the investigation said authorities are reviewing video to try to identify Erdogan guards they believe instigated the melee that injured nine people outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Two arrests have been made.
Erdogan met with President Donald Trump on Tuesday at the White House. Among the topics they discussed was working together to defeat terrorism.
At a Wednesday news conference, police did not directly identify the guards as suspects but said they are working with the State Department and Secret Service to identify people involved in the altercation.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said the violence was “not something we tolerate in our city.” He said several of the Erdogan guards were armed with guns, making the incident especially “dicey” for D.C. officers trying to quell the violence.
If charges are pursued against any Erdogan guards, officials might have to work through thorny issues such as diplomatic immunity or the special status afforded to those who guard visiting heads of state.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif. on Wednesday sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging immediate action to hold individuals accountable for the attacks on the demonstrators.
“[This was] the type of violence you would never expect to see in America’s capital. It was the type of violence you’d expect to see in Erdogan’s Turkey and in other dictatorships,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of Armenian National Committee of America.
Hamparian captured parts of the attack on video and streamed the aftermath live on ANCA’s Facebook page.
Videos of the violent encounter were viewed by Sevag Tateosian of Fresno.
It was “very sad to see this type of behavior against peaceful demonstrators,” Tateosian said in an email to The Bee.
Turkey defended the actions of the guards. Because "police did not heed Turkish demands to intervene," Erdogan's security team and Turkish citizens moved in and "dispersed them," the official Anadolu news agency reported.
A coalition of groups organized the demonstrations, which involved representatives from the Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, Yezidi, and Assyrian communities, The Armenian Weekly reported.
“I saw a group of peaceful protesters in Sheridan Circle – a grassy area across from the Turkish ambassador’s residence – who were protesting and exercising their constitutional right to speak their minds, to hold signs, to share their opinions, and express their views get rushed from across the street by a group of a pro-Erdogan [demonstrators], who broke through the police lines and attacked literally anybody within their reach with their fists and anything else they could get a hold of,” Hamparian said in the live video moments after the attack.