Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arrival in Washington for a meeting with US President Donald Trump, which is scheduled to take place at noon on Wednesday, has sparked protests around the White House and Erdogan’s hotel nearby.
Trump gave his Turkish counterpart a warm welcome while Erdogan’s last visit to the country still echoed in D.C., when Turkish security forces broke through police lines, openly attacking American protesters on the streets.
During the Turkish President’s last visit on May 16, 2017, a number of his security guards attacked protesters who had gathered outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington, less than two miles from the White House.
A total of eleven people were hurt in the brawl with at least two of the victims suffering brain injuries, The Guardian reported, based on a newly-released U.S. State Department documents on the incident.
Several months after the brief detention of two Turkish security guards in the aftermath of the attack, US prosecutors indicted 15 Turkish security officials, accusing them of beating peaceful protesters in Washington.
Charges against 11 of the security guards were dropped by the prosecutors in the incident that triggered outrage among members of the US Congress.
In order to prevent such an incident from recurring, a bipartisan group of legislatures has called for increased security to protect protesters that were expected to demonstrate against Erdogan on Wednesday.
The Hill reported that 40 lawmakers signed two separate letters criticizing the Turkish security officers’ attack in 2017 and asking law enforcement to ensure the safety of those protesting against Erdogan during his latest visit in DC.
D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham told The Washington Post on November 8 about Erdogan’s then-expected visit that his department “will take every measure possible to make sure we don’t have another conflict like we had the last time.”
Parts of F Street and Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House will be shut down to traffic on Tuesday through to Wednesday, the Metropolitan Police Department announced.
Mark Segraves from News4 channel reported live on Tuesday night that security was “at its highest” around the Willard Hotel near the White House, where Erdogan will be staying during his visit.
“The D.C. police and secret service have the entire block surrounded in advance of the Turkish President’s arrival for his visits with the President [Trump] tomorrow, and of course the police are worried about protesters who are sure to follow him wherever he goes,” Segraves elaborated.
A large group of Kurds and Armenians reportedly staged a demonstration in Lafayette Park, a seven-acre park across from the White House in Washington, at noon on Wednesday to protest Erdogan’s two-day trip to the United States.
The protest was organized by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots political organization, alongside the America Rojava Center for Democracy (ARCDEM).
ARCDEM is a US-based predominantly Kurdish group advocating for freedom, democracy, and peace in Syria.
The pro-Kurdish Rudaw news agency on Tuesday reported that ANCA has urged the US to take a stand against the alleged killing of Kurds as part of a Turkish offensive in Syria and the mass killings of Armenians in 1915, which Turkey refuses to label as a “genocide.”
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian told Daniella Cheslow from WAMU, the leading public radio station for NPR news, that the protest is a coalition of Greek, Kurdish, Assyrian and Christian human rights groups.
“There’s a right that has to be protected. That’s the right of Americans to speak freely here in America and not ever feel as though they should be quiet or silenced because of threats and intimidation from a foreign government,” Hamparian underlined.
A video published by ANCA on the organization’s YouTube channel on Wednesday shows a large group of people protesting against Erdogan and the human rights violations they claim to happen because of his ruling AK Party (AKP) government.
Among the slogans chanted during the protest were, “Turkey out of Syria,” “Stop Turkish invasion,” “Erdogan is ISIS” and “Turkey out of NATO now.”
The Turkish offensive targeting Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, which started in early October after Trump’s announcement that he intended to pull U.S. troops out of the region, has drawn international condemnation.
Trump’s move also received bipartisan criticism in Congress, many members of which have argued that withdrawal of US military forces left Syrian Kurds, who served as US allies in the fight against ISIS in the region, vulnerable to slaughter by Turkish forces.
Turkish news portal Medya Bold reported another incident of an anti-Erdogan demonstration that also took place on Wednesday, in which the protesters have projected slogans onto the exterior wall of the Willard Hotel where the president stays in DC.
While one of the slogans projected onto the building said, “Erdogan sleeps here while 864 babies sleep in his jails,” the other one noted, “Worlds biggest jailer of journalists sleeps here” with the hashtag “StopErdogan.”
International media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called Turkey, which currently has more than 100 journalists behind bars, the “world’s biggest jailer of journalists” in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a lawmaker from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), announced in August that there were 864 babies staying with their mothers behind bars.
In a number of cases, women were reportedly detained in the hospital immediately after the delivery of their babies and before they had a chance to recover.
Many of the mothers jailed with their children have been charged with having links to the Gulen movement led by the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, which is accused by Ankara of orchestrating the failed coup attempt that targeted AKP on July 15, 2016.
Both Gulen and his followers strongly deny any coup-related accusations.