By Ahmet S. Yayla
Muscular diplomacy was given new meaning on May 16 when sign-carrying demonstrators outside the Turkish embassy in Washington were charged by a group of embassy supporters and the Turkish president’s own security guards. Of the 24 protesters who stood on a public street, nine were bloodied after an assault that appears to have been ordered by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who watched it all unfold.
Public reaction was swift. The next day the Turkish ambassador was called onto the carpet by the U.S. State Department. Sen. John McCain of Arizona called for the ambassador to be returned to Ankara.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “urging immediate action to hold individuals accountable for brutal attacks on peaceful protestors.” Metropolitan Washington, D.C. police and the State Department began an investigation to identify the attackers, most of whom appeared to be plainclothes bodyguards of Erdogan and his Turkish supporters.
House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill on May 25 “condemning the violence against peaceful protesters outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and measures to be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.”
It was the third such incident to happen in Washington in two years. The first incident happened on March 31, 2016, at the Brookings Institution where Erdogan’s bodyguards punched and manhandled the protesters and some Turkish journalists. The second incident happened on June 10, 2016, during Muhammad Ali’s funeral between the secret service agents and Erdogan’s security details. The third incident took place in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence while Erdogan was speaking at a closed event organized by the Atlantic Council.
What was different on May 16 is that Erdogan appears to have ordered the assault from his limousine. He was seen talking to one of his security details from his car in a video recorded and released by the Voice of America TV crew seconds before the violent clashes took place. In the VOA video, as soon as Erdogan talked to his security police, the officer promptly communicated with the other security police officers and used the word, “dalin,” meaning “attack” in Turkish police rhetoric. Erdogan watched the whole melee and thuggish assault on the protesters without restraining his guards as the incident progressed. Erdogan had plenty of time to intervene but did not.
Erdogan’s security details are a reflection of Erdogan’s new Turkey, where the West is considered as an enemy, and the Salafist Jihadist organizations are the friends in need. Several radicalized Political Islamist citizens were welcomed as new recruits by the new Turkish Ministry of Interior after massive purges in of police officials from 2014.
This incident was not a surprise for me, a former Turkish Police Chief and academician. Erdogan fired all of his previous security details including the chiefs and low-level officers after a sensational corruption scandal involving his family in December 2013. Those officers dismissed included many highly trained and respected career police officers, many of whom are now political prisoners.
The senior officers who replaced them were hand-picked by Erdogan’s nephew and de-facto chief bodyguard, Ali Erdogan, who reportedly is proud of his temper, one trait he shares with his uncle. Mr. Ali Erdogan has a reputation for swearing, smoking marijuana, corruption, and vice. The career police cadre do not consider him a qualified officer, nor does he have an official title. However, dictators love flawed, dirty, but blindly loyal brutes in their inner circles.
The Turkish media in Anatolia did not relate critical accounts of the May 16 assault to Turkish viewers. As we can assume Turkey’s slide to dictatorship is complete, and now is almost a fascist regime, anything that would slightly harm Erdogan regime is censored or wildly spun by loyalists in Turkey’s lapdog press.
There may yet be a darker implication of the deliberate attack on unarmed protestors. Was it a deliberate provocation meant to give the finger to President Trump for rebuffing his demands at the White House meeting? He had asked for the U.S. Justice Department to halt its prosecution of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who stands accused of sending hundreds of millions of pay-off money to Erdogan for his help of Iran to evade the sanctions regime, but the President wouldn’t talk Turkey. To many of Erdogan’s bodyguards who were attacking the crowd, it was not only a violent and aggressive move but, more importantly, a jihad to defend their leader’s right and honor.
The Trump Administration should take this last melee caused by Erdogan seriously and charge Erdogan’s goons and make this incident a teaching moment for Turkey. The visas and travel rights of the officers who were in the U.S. with Erdogan should be revoked, and anyone from the Turkish Embassy who took part in this mess should be sent home. The Sultan should understand that a gangster-like behavior is not welcomed in the West and that he will face the consequences of his illicit actions.
Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University. He is also senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He formerly served as a professor and the chair of the sociology department at Harran University in Turkey. He also served as the chief of counterterrorism and operations department of the Turkish National Police in Sanliurfa between 2010 and 2013. He is the co-author of the newly released book ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @ahmetsyayla