Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had an eventful visit in the United States in advance of his address to the Brookings Institute.
Erdogan had arrived earlier in the week to attend a nuclear security summit at the White House, and is slated to participate in the opening of a new mosque and Turkish Islamic cultural center in Maryland, a scant 10 miles from Washington.
But the Turkish leader faced vociferous protests Thursday from Kurdish Americans outside the Brookings Institute ahead of his speech on challenges in the region. And that triggered his advance team, which behaved like a bunch of green mafia goons.
The demonstrators were waving the typical American protester picket signs calling the Turkish president a “facist murderer,” demanding he “End Turkish denial” and “Stop Turkish aggression.”
And as usual, Washington DC police moved to contain the protesters. Media was there, of course, complete with cameras, film and audio crews, some already entering the building and others still outside covering the protests in advance of the event. That’s when the firestorm broke out.
News outlets in Washington reported that Erdogan’s security personnel tried to remove some journalists from the Brookings Institute but were not allowed to throw them out.
The security detail was photographed clashing with protesters and confronting city police after law enforcement declined to remove demonstrators from the area.
Erdogan’s security detail “became physical with reporters, removing one journalist from Brookings, kicking an NPR reporter and throwing a female reporter to the sidewalk,” according to Foreign Policy magazine.
Turkish bodyguards told a cameraman he was not allowed to film outside the think tank’s building. Security personnel chased another cameraman across the street.
Another Turkish security guard called a veteran female journalist Amberin Zaman “a PKK whore” as she stood in the driveway of the Brookings building, preparing to enter. Other epithets they used cannot be printed here.
In the United States, it is legal to demonstrate in the public arena and to carry picket signs even when they display outrageous messages. But in Turkey, such actions could earn a protester a jail sentence, at the minimum. Clearly, Erdogan’s advance team had received little or no briefing — or had chosen to ignore the information provided to them.
The Turkish leader has made a concerted effort to suppress media freedom in Turkey. Several weeks ago his administration seized control of Zaman / Today’s Zaman, the daily newspaper with the largest circulation in the country, and shut it down. Other news outlets have been closed down over the past year as well. Numerous journalists have been jailed for expressing opinions contrary to those of the president, questioning his actions or writing investigative reports. It’s very unpredictable.
Brookings Institute staff eventually came out of the building to physically escort some of the journalists into the forum and shield them from the harassment.
One DC police officer was heard to remark after a heated discussion with an Erdogan security guard, “He just cursed at me in Turkish.” Some of the Turkish personnel had to be physically blocked from assaulting the protesters, by a combined force of DC police and Brookings staff.
A total free-for-all.
National Press Club President Thomas Burr said in a statement later in the day the Erdogan security team “have no right to lay their hands on reporters or protesters or anyone else for that matter, when the people they were apparently roughing up seemed to be merely doing their jobs or exercising the rights they have in this country.”
A relatively mild response to the thuggery that took place with the excuse of “misunderstanding” and cultural dissonance.
Nevertheless, not every demonstrator was protesting the Turkish president’s presence: there was also those at Brookings who waved Turkish flags and pro-Erdogan banners. Some of the picket signs thanked the Turkish president for “protecting Syrian refugees.”