Two U.S. law firms are suing the government of Turkey on behalf of Kurdish protesters attacked outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence last year in the District.
The protesters, a mix of Americans citizens, many of Kurdish or Armenian descent, were violently beaten by Turkish security officers on May 16, 2017, while protesting the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Video footage captured by media shocked the world, which showed the guards surrounding individual protesters — including older men and women — and kicking, punching and choking them.
“I came to this country thirty years ago to escape the persecution faced by Kurds in Turkey but the brutal attack at Sheridan Circle brought these injustices to America’s doorstep,” Murat Yasa, 62, one of the victims, said in a statement provided by his legal representation.
Mr. Yasa is one of 15 people being represented in one lawsuit by D.C.-based law firm Cohen Milstein. Another five are represented by attorneys Andreas Akaras and Douglas Bregman.
“Our clients include parents with young children and local business owners who were peacefully protesting human rights abuses by Turkey when they were kicked, punched and stomped by Turkish security officials — right here on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C.,” Agnieszka M. Fryszman, chair of the Human Rights Practice at national law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and co-counsel for the victims, said in a statement.
“This is an open and shut case because the brutal attempt to silence the demonstrators was captured on video. There is no immunity for this conduct and we look forward to proving our claims in court.”
The lawsuits are being filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which established a framework for lawsuits to be filed in U.S. state and federal court against sovereign international governments.
One of the precedents for the case, the lawyers said, is Jacques Miango, who sued the Democratic Republic of Congo in a Baltimore court and won over $500 million in a default judgment.
In August 2014, Mr. Miango was protesting outside a Georgetown hotel against the visit of DRC President Joseph Kabila Kabange when he was attacked by Congolese security officers. He said he sustained multiple injuries and had his car broken into and property stolen.
In the May attack, only two people were ever held accountable — two American citizens sentenced to a year and one day in prison. Two other Canadian citizens and four Turkish security officers currently have warrants out for their arrest, although charges were dropped against 11 members of President Erdogan’s security detail after intervention by the U.S. State Department.
“We filed the case because it sets the record straight,” Mr. Akaras said. “The mere fact that this exist gives support to people who want to counter the false media and the false acts within Turkey.
“Just like he intended this attack to intimidate people in Turkey, so too our response is to give hope to people.”