Demonstrators at Lafayette Square on Wednesday included people upset with Turkey’s invasion of northeast Syria targeting American-allied Syrian Kurds, which followed President Trump’s ordered withdrawal of troops along the border. Other protest points included the century-old mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, which the U.S. House of Representatives recently recognized as genocide.
The demonstration came as Erdogan visited with Trump in the White House and the leaders held a news conference. The two leaders discussed the situation in Syria and Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile-defense system, and Trump referred to Erdogan as “a very good friend.” Several lawmakers voiced concern over Erdogan’s visit, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said he “shared my colleagues’ uneasiness at seeing President Erdogan honored at the White House.”
There appeared to be no repeat of the violence from two years ago, though there were some brief skirmishes.
A scuffle broke out early in the afternoon when a man in a long black coat, who appeared to be an Erdogan supporter, walked into the crowd. Chris Walsh, 30, who came from Boston to attend the rally, confronted the man, who was silent as a line of D.C. police officers escorted him out of Lafayette Square. As he went, he held up a hand and made a gesture associated with a far-right Turkish nationalist group, the Grey Wolves, his pinkie and index fingers raised.
Later, a reporter for Turkey’s state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corp. was shoved, apparently by a demonstrator, as he live-streamed a report. The station’s director said on Twitter that the reporter was “attacked by the enemies of Turkey” and that “we will continue to transmit the truth without fear, no matter which part of world we are.”
When a motorcade pulled out of the White House late in the afternoon, demonstrators broke into shouts of “Terrorist Erdogan!”
But D.C. police blocked the demonstrators as they set out to march from the White House to Sheridan Circle, putting a line of about three dozen officers at 15th and G streets NW. Demonstrators stood face-to-face with the officers, beating drums and continuing chants of “Shame on Trump!” before returning to Lafayette Square and disbanding.
The afternoon demonstration was mostly calm amid a heavy police presence. Children ran through the grass and jumped up and down on signs bearing images of Erdogan’s face.
Shahnaz Kocher, 41, brought her sons — ages 6 and 7 — so they could “start to understand the history of a place called Kurdistan.”
She said standing so close to where Erdogan was meeting with Trump felt surreal.
“What a shame to America,” she said.
Seyid Riza Dersimi, 62, was one of the protesters injured two years ago. He said Turkish security officers beat him so badly that he was hospitalized with a head injury. On Wednesday he wore a white construction helmet as he addressed the crowd.
“I am not scared of him,” he said to cheers. “Of course I’m going to demonstrate. But this time, I am going to make sure I protect myself.”
For hours, protesters marched around the square, beating drums, waving flags — Syrian, Kurdish, Armenian, American and others — and chanting. With temperatures hovering in the 30s, protesters handed out hand warmers, cigarettes and hot cups of coffee poured from thermoses.
Kemal Oz, a veteran who served in the Army for four years, including a tour in Iraq from 2008 to 2009, wore his military fatigues to the rally to show that “not all Americans, not all veterans agree with what (Trump) is doing.”
“I came here to say, ‘Not in my name,’ ” said Oz, who lives in Dallas. “The Kurds were our strongest allies in the Middle East. We should never have sold them out like we did.”
Lisa Stepanian, 61, of New York, wore a button on her chest that said “the Turkish Delight is murder.”
Stepanian, a Syrian American, said she has carried the pin around for more than 50 years. She was 10 when an Armenian man who survived the genocide gave it to her.
She had heard about the violence that marred Erdogan’s 2017 visit but decided to come anyway.
“My ancestors were all killed,” she said. “If I can’t come out here and demand [Erdogan] is made to account for his actions when there’s a little risk, then shame on me.”
Several demonstrators, along with police and Secret Service agents, were injured, and authorities charged 15 members of Erdogan’s security detail with various counts of assault. Charges were later dropped against all but four of the guards.
Turkish leaders have linked demonstrators, such as the ones they fought with in 2017, to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which both Turkey and the United States have designated a terrorist organization. Demonstrators have denied being associated with that group.
Erdogan in 2017 denounced D.C. police for failing to protect him and his entourage and said it was necessary that the guards take action because local law enforcement either refused to or were incapable.
Jennifer Amur, David Nakamura and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report