BY REP. ADAM SCHIFF
On May 16th, a group of peaceful protestors gathered at a public park outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Northwest Washington, DC. They came to exercise their First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, and to make it clear that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brutal crackdown on political opposition, free speech, and free media in his own country would not go unchallenged here in the United States.
Their voices were all the more vital because only a mile away, President Erdogan was being received warmly by President Trump at the White House, without mention of Turkey’s numerous human rights abuses.
The protesters came from a variety of backgrounds — Armenian, Kurdish, Ezidi, and more. A few weeks before, I had met with one of the people who joined the protest, Lucy Usoyan, in my Washington D.C. office. Lucy is an Armenian-born activist of Ezidi descent who has helped raise awareness about the plight of the Ezidi people who have suffered immensely at the hands of ISIS and others in Syria and Iraq, and calls for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, a cause I have championed for many years.
As Lucy and the other protestors demonstrated in public space, the atmosphere was tense with the presence of counter protestors and Turkish security. But when President Erdogan arrived at the residence with his entourage of armed security guards, it quickly spiraled into chaos and violence. Erdogan’s security forces rushed the demonstrators, breaking past DC police officers keeping the peace, and in a bloody and indelible scene, viciously assaulted the protestors.
Lucy found herself knocked to the ground and struck repeatedly in the head, violently enough to cause a traumatic brain injury which would leave her hospitalized. Another Kurdish woman was put in a chokehold by a dark suited security guard who told her he was going to kill her. Many others were knocked to the ground and battered with kicks and punches as they lay defenseless. It was only through the courageous intervention of DC police officers, who pulled armed attackers off of protesters, that even more weren’t injured.
Violent scenes such as this have become commonplace in Turkey, where Erdogan has cemented his power over all aspects of Turkish political life through violence and imprisonment of dissenting groups and independent media. The leaders of political parties opposed to Erdogan’s autocratic rule have been incarcerated, and Turkey is now the world’s leading jailor of journalists. But to see these attacks on American soil against people exercising their constitutional rights is simply outrageous.
In the wake of the attacks, the actions of Turkish security forces were condemned by the State Department, and the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Administration to hold the Turkish government to account. Following an investigation, and based on the extensive video of the confrontation, DC police charged 12 members of Erdogan’s security details with assault. However, there is no indication that Turkey intends to cooperate with the investigation or will assist in ensuring those charged face justice. To the contrary, Turkey’s response has been to blame the very police officers who bravely protected protestors and sought to defuse the confrontation. If those who carried out these assaults are to be held responsible, it will require the State Department and the Administration to prioritize this issue and impose real costs on Turkey and Erdogan.
California also has a role to play. The California State Assembly recently passed legislation introduced by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian that would require California’s pension funds to divest from Turkish government-owned assets. The legislation, which will soon be considered by the State Senate, would help send a message that we refuse to simply accept Turkey’s assault on our values and our constitution, that their continuing denial of the Armenian Genocide is unacceptable, and that we will not simply look the other way as the last remaining members of Turkish democracy are extinguished in favor of autocratic rule by Erodgan. I recently wrote to the State legislature in support of this legislation, which I hope will soon be signed into law.
From the nation’s capital to the states and local government, we must make it clear that foreign powers cannot attack Americans exercising their constitutional rights.
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents the 28th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.