Haykaram Nahapetyan is the Washington correspondent for the First Channel of Armenia. Marni Pilafian contributed to this commentary.
Last month’s scuffle between Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security personnel and protesters at Washington’s Sheridan Circle was just another ring in the chain of skirmishes outside Turkey that have involved the Turkish president’s security people. Other incidents have not been as massive, but the continuing impunity contributes to the violence. On Tuesday, the House unanimously voted to pass a resolution that condemned the attack by Erdogan’s bodyguards. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said during the hearings: “A similar incident occurred about a half dozen years ago at the United Nations. Same head of state. Same thugs attacking peaceful protesters. Last year … there was an attack on journalists outside of the Brookings [Institution]. So, if we don’t tell them it’s time to stop, they will persist — that is for sure.”
Indeed, in 2011, when Erdogan visited New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly session, his bodyguards quarreled with U.N. security personnel. At least one U.N. security officer’s injuries required emergency medical treatment. Then-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky called it part of “some unfortunate misunderstandings.”
In 2015, Erdogan’s guards got into a fight with Belgian police at Brussels’s Place Stéphanie. The next day, the two sides clashed again at Val Duchesse Chateau over whose job it was to check the rooms Erdogan was to visit.
Last year, Erdogan’s aggressive personnel were involved in violent incidents in Latin America as well. In Ecuador, his security team reportedly attacked Kurdish protesters and those who supported them. They attacked and broke the nose of Ecuadoran National Assembly member Diego Vintimilla.
While in Ecuador, during Erdogan’s speech at the National Higher Studies Institute, a group of women chanted “Get out of Ecuador.” The president’s bodyguards reportedly forced protesters to leave the room by striking their heads. Fast forward to this year’s scuffle in D.C. and Erdogan’s security personnel still appear to have no problem beating up female protesters. During last month’s incident, Yazidi activist Lucy Usoyan reportedly was thrown on the ground and beaten about the head, and Ceren Borazan was choked by a man in a black suit, who she believes was a bodyguard. “A stranger helped me; he basically saved my life,” said Ceren, when she told me her story.
Last month’s incident wasn’t even the first-time Erdogan and his personnel have created chaos in Washington. Last year, Erdogan spoke at the Brookings Institution. Washington-based reporters Ali Watkins and Yochi Dreazen were among those who tweeted about the violence they witnessed, as the Turkish president’s security guards attacked peaceful protesters and Brookings personnel. “Never seen anything like this: a female reporter just tackled,” Dreazen said in his write-up for Foreign Policy Magazine.
These repeated aggressions of Erdogan’s security detail outside Turkey call for a new and unprecedented practice: The adoption of extra security measures to protect citizens of the hosting country from a foreign visitor. German police have already introduced a new measure that would restrict Erdogan’s own security personnel to protection inside the hotel only and would allow them to “in no way meddle in the security around the hotel” during Erdogan’s upcoming trip to Hamburg for the Group of 20 summit next month. According to Hamburg’s Police Directorate Spokesperson Timo Zill, police will be on alert to ensure that a clash similar to the one that occurred on May 16 in Washington does not take place when Erdogan is in town. Maybe the impunity for Erdogan’s security personnel will finally come to an end.