Prosecutors Agree to Drop Multiple Bias and Hate Crimes Charges; Propose 1 Year Sentence. ANCA Calls the Deal ‘A Travesty.”
WASHINGTON—Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian, a witness to the May 16 Erdogan-ordered attacks on peaceful protesters in Washington, DC, sharply criticized a plea agreement to drop multiple hate and bias charges against two of the assailants in return for a guilty plea and one year of imprisonment.
“A proposed one year sentence for a brutal, unapologetic foreign government directed assault against Americans on U.S. soil is an absolute travesty,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The Erdogan-ordered attack wasn’t just a violent hate crime against Americans but an open assault on American values. This sentence, if approved by the court, will effectively serve as a green light to Erdogan and other foreign dictators intent on exporting their violence to American shores.”
Hamparian and representatives of the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights (ALC) were on hand at District of Columbia Superior Court when the plea deal was registered for Eyup Yildirim and Sinan Narin, two of the 19 perpetrators indicted for the brutal beatings, which included 15 members of Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail, and two Canadians, who have reportedly since repatriated to Turkey. All 19 defendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, with a bias crime enhancement – charges of hate crimes – which carry a maximum 15 years prison sentence. The plea deal would remove the hate-crimes component of the charges, which have been reduced to one charge of assault.
Narin of Virginia and Yildirim of New Jersey, who are being represented by by Mark Schamel and David Benowitz, partner at Price Benowitz LLP, pleaded guilty to one count of assault with significant bodily injury, after participating in the beating of a group of Kurdish, Armenian, and Yezidi protesters outside of the home of the Turkish Ambassador on May 16.
At the official plea hearing this morning, the prosecution led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonali Patel read out loud the facts that the defendants agreed to, including multiple aggressions toward police officers, several statements supporting President Tayyip Erdogan, and finally, the assaults on Lusik Usoyan, founder of the Ezidi Relief Fund and Murat Yasa, a local businessman and protest organizer.
Although the defendants faced an indictment for hate crimes charges and more than 15 years in jail, almost all the charges were dropped in the plea agreement, which called for only a one-year and one-day sentence and a $12,500 fine. Judge Marisa Demeo will be able to increase or decrease that sentence at the official sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for March 15.
At Thursday’s hearing, the lawyers for the defense indicated their intention to argue at the sentencing hearing that the protesters’ alleged support of the PKK and the content of their speech should somehow lessen charges of brutal assault, which involved kicking victims on the ground in the head, one of whom was rendered unconscious.
They also denied any coordination with Turkish security staff during or after the attack, despite revelations that both defendants have received political support from Erdogan, who many believe ordered the attack, and were personally visited in prison by Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglo, who very publicly extended “love and greetings” from Turkey even after videotape images were broadcast of the defendants brutally beating Americans in DC.
“This plea agreement is indeed a travesty and we hope the judge will issue a harsher sentence, considering the brutality of the attack on both American bodies and fundamental principles by defendants, who have so far shown no remorse, but have signaled preparations to smear the victims instead,” said Kate Nahapetian, Executive Director of the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Accountability.
The final sentencing, to be issued by DC Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo, is set March 15.
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian was videotaping live at the scene of the May 16th attack, which took place in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence where President Erdogan was scheduled to have a closed-door meeting with think tank leaders. Hamparian’s video showed pro-Erdogan forces crossing a police line and beating peaceful protesters – elderly men and several women – who were on the ground bleeding during most of the attack.
Hamparian testified before a May 25th Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on this matter. Joining him at the hearing were Ms. Lusik Usoyan, Founder and President of the Ezidi Relief Fund; Mr. Murat Yusa, a local businessman and protest organizer; and Ms. Ruth Wedgwood, Edward B. Burling Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Usoyan and Yusa were victims of the brutal assault on May 16th by President Erdogan’s bodyguards.
On June 6, with a vote of 397 to 0, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously condemned Turkey in response to the attacks, taking a powerful stand against Ankara’s attempts to export its violence and intolerance to America’s shores. H.Res.354, spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), has received the public backing of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). On July 14th, the U.S. House also unanimously adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill, championed by Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman David Trott (R-MI), raising objections to a proposed U.S. sale of handguns for use by the very Erdogan security detail involved in the May 16th attack.
On July 19, senior members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX), Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Co-Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD) condemned Turkish President Erdogan’s violent actions – both in Turkey and the U.S. – during “A Stand for Free Speech” held at the site of the May 16th attacks. The press conference and rally was organized by the ANCA, in coordination with the Sheridan Circle May 16 Initiative (including many victims of the beatings), and a host of Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, and Christian groups including the American Kurdish Association (AKA), In Defense of Christians, American Hellenic Council, Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights, A Demand for Action, Hellenic American Leadership Council, AHEPA, and the Armenian Youth Federation.
The May 16 protest in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence was a continuation of a demonstration held earlier in the day in front of the White House, co-hosted by the ANCA. As President Trump met with President Erdogan. human rights and religious rights groups were joined by representatives of the Kurdish, Yezidi and Armenian communities to call attention to the Erdogan regime’s escalating repression against free press, the Kurdish and other ethnic communities, as well as Turkey’s ongoing obstruction of justice for the Armenian Genocide.