Security personnel routinely assault and violate the rights of protesters in Turkey.
So maybe the Turkish president’s body guards forgot that they were in a different country when they assaulted protesters in the US capital on Tuesday.
In a surreal and chaotic video captured by Voice of America, dozens of Turkish bodyguards in suits can be seen rushing into a crowd of peaceful protesters, knocking them to the ground, bloodying faces, and sending punches and kicks flying. The protesters fight back, but the brawl seems lopsided from the footage as US police officers scramble to contain and subdue the bodyguards.
“All of the sudden they just ran towards us,” Yazidi Kurd demonstrator Lucy Usoyan told ABC. “Someone was beating me in the head nonstop, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m on the ground already, what is the purpose to beat me?’”
As all this was going on, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in the middle of his first trip to meet US President Donald Trump.
Talk about a diplomatic fire.
This afternoon in front of the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington pic.twitter.com/nb1X3A0prm— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) May 16, 2017
The US State Department is "communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms," according to a statement.
"Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest," said spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
This isn't even the first time that Turkish security personnel have attacked protesters in the US, according to The Intercept . Neither Erdogan or Trump has directly addressed the latest assault so far, but up to this point, the two have shared a friendly relationship.
Trump recently called Erdogan to congratulate him on a deeply contested referendum that granted him sweeping new powers.
In their first meeting in the White House, Erdogan called Trump’s inauguration a “legendary triumph.”
The two countries are allies and have a deep, complicated relationship in the fight against terrorism. Both administrations likely want to keep that cooperation going, according to The New York Times.
But over the past year, Turkey has approached authoritarianism. Following a failed coup attempt last summer, Erdogan has embarked on an enormous purge of civil society, rounding up tens of thousands of people, and cracking down on anyone suspected of dissidence.
Trump hasn’t challenged Erdogan on the tensions at home, just as Trump didn’t challenge Egyptian president Abdel El-Sisi on his human rights violations when he visited Washington, and didn’t challenge Chinese president Xi Jinping on human rights when he visited.
This silence is in line with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent comments that the US won’t engage in human rights issues during this administration, as there are more important issues.
But perhaps seeing human rights issues spill out into the streets of Washington will change the administration’s stance.