Twelve arrests warrants for members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail were issued Thursday by the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department after an assault on peaceful protesters last month.
“You had peaceful demonstrators that were physically assaulted in the District of Columbia,” Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said during a press conference. “The message to folks that are going to come to our city, either from another state or another country, is that’s not going to be tolerated in Washington, D.C.”
A total of 18 arrest warrants have now been issued over the brawl, which left nine people in the hospital after the fight escalated outside of the Turkish ambassador’s D.C. residence. At the time, Erdogan was in the city meeting with President Donald Trump, who offered a warm welcome to Turkey’s authoritarian leader with a lengthy history of human rights violations. Others were less welcoming than the U.S. president — protesters supporting and opposing Erdogan were already heatedly debating outside the ambassador’s home when members of the Turkish president’s security detail proceeded to violently come in between the groups.
Video footage from Voice of America showed men in dark suits targeting protesters carrying signs supporting Selahattin Demirtas, an imprisoned Kurdish separatist leader:
— Amerika'nın Sesi (@VOATurkish) May 17, 2017
The brawl instantly attracted bipartisan anger. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Tom Cotton (R-AR) all demanded an apology from the Turkish government, while the U.S. House of Representatives passed a 397–0 resolution condemning the violence. Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç was also summoned to the State Department following the altercation, which the State Department condemned, pledging that officials were “communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.” (Trump notably failed to comment in the days following the scuffle, a silence that many criticized.)
Two people were arrested immediately following the altercation, with another two arrested earlier this week. Another two men were arrested Wednesday morning according to CNN — Sinan Narin and Eyup Yildirim, both of whom are Turkish nationals. But the rest of those wanted may never face charges; two are Canadian citizens and the others are Turkish, with all appearing to have left the United States before arrest warrants were obtained.
“If they attempt to enter the United States, they will be arrested,” Newsham said. He also made it clear that the city would not tolerate a crackdown on free speech.
“In the United States, and particularly in the District of Columbia, we hold our ability to peacefully protest as a sacred right,” he said. “It’s just something we’re not going to tolerate. 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 in Sheridan Circle on that particular day.”
Neither the State Department nor the Turkish Embassy have commented on the new wave of arrests as of Thursday afternoon. Turkey has still not apologized for the initial incident, instead charging that the “aggressive and unprofessional actions” of U.S. security personnel against Turkish bodyguards remains the real issue at hand. Erdogan’s government was similarly defiant following another incident last year, when Turkish security clashed with protesters outside of the Brookings Institution, where the Turkish president was speaking.