The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Was Erdogan personally involved in his bodyguards’ attacks on protesters in D.C.?

This article has been updated.

After he met with President Trump this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Embassy Row in Northwest Washington, where Turkey’s ambassador has a home. At some point while Erdogan was there, a group of people across the street at Sheridan Circle began to loudly protest.

The red marker indicates the ambassador’s home. The green marker is the location of the protesters.

That protest ended violently, with pro- and anti-Erdogan sides exchanging blows. Voice of America caught the beginning of the fight.

Police fought to separate two groups that violently clashed outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on May 16 in Washington, D.C. (Video: VOA Turkish/Twitter, Photo: DAVE CLARK/VOA Turkish/Twitter)

That footage quickly demonstrated that the physical altercation originated with several men in suits who were at the front edge of the pro-Erdogan crowd on the south side of the circle. In a news conference Wednesday, D.C. police stated that some of those involved were members of Erdogan’s security detail — which the Turkish state news agency Anadolu confirmed. “Police did not heed Turkish demands to intervene,” Anadolu said, as The Post has reported, so the guards moved in to “disperse them.”

The police didn’t “heed” those demands to break up a peaceful protest, of course, because those protests were legal, protected under the First Amendment.

On Thursday afternoon, a new wrinkle: It turns out that Erdogan himself observed the brawl from the driveway of the ambassador’s residence.

A video released by Voice of America appears to show Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan observing an attack on protesters. (Video: VOATurkish)

If you watch that video closely, though, you’ll notice something else. Right before the brawling starts, a man appears to receive instruction from Erdogan, who then signals to another man who walks down the driveway to the street — and the brawling begins seconds later.

The timeline

Timestamp 0:01: A man leans into the car to speak with Erdogan (large circle). We know it’s Erdogan in the rear passenger side because he later emerges from that point. A man with a mustache (small circle) stands nearby.

0:14: After talking with Erdogan, the man next to the door speaks with the man with a mustache.

0:16: The man with a mustache heads down toward the street.

0:22: The protesters, who had been chanting “Baby-killer Erdogan,” suddenly go quiet.

0:28: The cameraman catches the scuffle through the trees.

1:13: Erdogan emerges from the car, at right. The man with the mustache comes back up the driveway as he does so.

1:16: Erdogan and the man with the mustache speak.

1:29: Erdogan walks away from the car. Note the heavyset man in the background.

If you go back to the first footage of the brawl, you can see that heavyset man participating in the fight. Here he is, at the 25-second mark.

The close-up video of the scuffle begins at about the 21-second mark of the Erdogan video, which we can tell by comparing stills from the two.

In other words, the timelines match: Five seconds after the man with the mustache heads down the sidewalk, a man in a suit runs across the street and attacks the protesters. The Turkish the state news agency confirms that Erdogan’s guards were among those involved in the fight.

We reached out to the VOA and the Armenian National Committee of America (which also had footage) to see if there were other angles showing the south side of the street shortly before the brawl began. VOA had no additional footage to share; we haven’t heard back from ANCA. Update: ANCA had no additional footage that helped answer the question.

How the U.S. can hold Erdogan’s brawling guards accountable — and keep it from happening again

That Turkish security forces violated the First Amendment rights of American protesters is, of course, a significant breach of international diplomacy, one that has received no small amount of attention over the past few days. If they did so at the direct encouragement of Erdogan, that raises the stakes significantly.

We have reached out to the Turkish embassy for comment.

If you have any additional footage of the brawl, please email.