- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Thursday rejected the approval of a U.S. congressional resolution condemning the violent fighting that took place outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C. last week.

“The incident that took place in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s Residence during the visit of President Erdoğan to Washington was caused as a result of the refusal of U.S. authorities to take necessary security measures, despite repeated official warnings,” Turkish Ambassador Hüseyin Müftüoğlu said in a statement.

“There is no answer to the question why the U.S. authorities did not take tight security measures in front of the Ambassador’s Residence as they did in other stages of the visit,” he continued.

On Thursday, the House committee on Foreign Affairs approved a non-binding resolution condemning the violence by Turkish security forces against pro-Kurdish protesters, where widely circulated video documented Turkish security officials punching, kicking and choking protestors in view of and during the Turkish president’s visit.

The resolution was led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Ed Ryce and supported by ranking Democrat Eliot Engel of New York with further bi-partisan support from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Short of having any legal ramifications, the resolution makes clear the disapproval by House members of the events that occurred.

The resolution also called on the Secret Service to review its security procedures in dealing with security personnel traveling with foreign government officials.

“This timely resolution sends a clear signal to the Turkish government that we will not allow any foreign government to stifle the rights of our citizens,” said Rep. Royce in his opening statements introducing the resolution. “…The rights of free expression and peaceful protest are fundamental values in any democracy. By passing this resolution we reaffirm our commitment to protect these rights against all who seek to oppress them.”

The bi-partisan resolution also urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department to waive diplomatic immunity protections for Turkish government officials found to be participating in the assault, which injured 11 people, including one police officer.

Two of Mr. Erdogan’s security guards were reportedly taken into custody by the Secret Service at the time, but were released and are believed to be back in Turkey.

Lawmakers highlighted this was the third such incident where Turkish government officials had participated in fighting on U.S. soil.

In March of last year, fighting broke out between protestors and members of Mr. Erdogan’s security team outside the Brookings Institution while the Turkish president was speaking inside.

A report by CNN highlighted that in 2011, members of Mr. Erdogan’s security detail got into a fight with United Nation Security guards at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

A U.N. spokesperson at the time called the incident “unfortunate misunderstandings” and that “necessary action” was taken to prevent such “misunderstandings in the future,” although this was not elaborated on.

At the resolution vote on Thursday, Mr. Engel said he was “shocked” at the time to learn of the brawl outside the Turkish residence. “The last thing we expect to see in the U.S. is a strongman’s thugs silencing peaceful protestors,” he said.

“Turkey is a NATO ally and a key partner in many issues, but what happened last week is unacceptable. This resolution calls for those responsible to face justice.”

After the fighting last week, Washington police arrested two individuals – both U.S. citizens – who were charged with assaults, one against a police officer and one against a civilian, and they were released pending court dates.

Since then, Turkish officials have maintained that the pro-Kurdish demonstrators are affiliated with the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist group based in Turkey, and that they provoked and attacked peaceful, pro-Erdogan, Turkish-Americans.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass was summoned to Ankara over the incident where Turkish officials expressed their disapproval of the handling of the confrontation.

Back in Washington at the hearing on Thursday, one of the injured protestors, business owner Murat Yasa, testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee describing the few minutes of violence in excruciating detail.

He said his group of 15 protestors stood across from the Turkish Ambassador’s residence holding signs of a jailed Kurdish politician when pro-Erdogan supporters started to gather across from them and started yelling “insulting and vulgar words directed at us.”

“After a verbal altercation, the pro-Erdogan supporters crossed the sidewalk, and made their way into the street, ready to attack us,” he said.

“The D.C. police were able to intervene before the conflict escalated, and attempted to get them back on the sidewalk. Thereafter, the police remained in front of the Turkish protestors and tried to prevent them from attacking us. But after a few minutes, Erdogan’s bodyguards, dressed in black suits and ties, pushed their way through the DC police, and attacked our group. Erdogan’s bodyguards were joined by the Turkish security personnel, as well as his supporters. There was more than 50 of them, some armed, but all were ready to attack. They came at us in such force, that even the DC police was unable to prevent them from charging at us.”

Mr. Yasa then listed the injuries he sustained in the fight, including a large cut on his nose that required stitches, a bruised and swollen lip, a chipped tooth and three other lose teeth and scratches across his face and on his head.

“I truly thought that I was going to die. I felt so helpless as I laid on the ground. And every time I thought that they were done attacking me, I would feel another kick to my face,” he testified.

Representative David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat, speaking at the hearing, said efforts made by Secretary of State Tillerson and the State Department to lodge formal complaints with Turkish officials were “good first steps” but “by no means do they resolve the issue,” he said.

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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