06.07.17

Rep. Schiff Speaks Against Violent Assault on Peaceful Protestors by Erdogan’s Thugs

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) spoke on the House floor about the full-fledged assault by professional thugs against peaceful protestors outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence last month in Northwest Washington, DC.

“We will not allow Turkey to beat innocent protestors on the streets of our nation's capital,” Rep. Schiff said. “We will continue to pursue justice, and to make clear that America will always stand up for the right of peaceful and free expression.”

The protestors came from a variety of backgrounds but shared a common concern about developments in Turkey, including the crackdown on political opposition and free speech in that country and Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide. The violent confrontation left 11 people injured, two of whom required hospitalization.

Rep. Schiff’s full remarks as prepared are below:

Mr. Speaker, 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 from a variety of backgrounds - Armenian, Kurdish, Ezidi, and more. But they shared a common concern about developments in Turkey, including the crackdown on political opposition and free speech in that country and Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide.

About a mile away, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan was received warmly by President Trump at the White House, with no mention of Turkey’s human rights abuses and growing authoritarianism. The protestors felt, rightly so, that they had to exercise their First Amendment rights and raise their voices in dissent - the very dissent which has been violently squelched by Erdogan in his own country.

What happened next was a chaotic and violent confrontation that left 11 people injured, two of whom required hospitalization. Tensions were already high, with pro-Turkish counter-protesters outside the residence scuffling with protesters. When Erdogan and his entourage arrived, the situation quickly spiraled out of control. As he exited his car, observing the protests, Erdogan can be seen on video speaking briefly to his security detail, and soon thereafter, several of these men, some of them armed with handguns, rushed past DC police officers to violently confront protestors, causing severe injuries.

The images are indelible and bloody. A Kurdish woman was put in a chokehold, and told by the dark-suited man who attacked her that he was going to kill her. Protesters, men and women alike, were knocked to the ground and assaulted with kicks to the face and torso. This was not a “scuffle,” it was a full-fledged assault by professional thugs on a peaceful protest.

Such scenes have become common in Turkey, where state sponsored violence and repression have become the chief instrument to cement Erdogan’s power. Selahattin Demirtas was until recently the leader of the Kurdish HDP party, and whom I had the honor to meet two years ago, now sits in prison as prosecutors seek to sentence him to 143 years of confinement. Turkey has become the world’s leading jailor of journalists, most recently adding French photojournalist Mathias Depardon, held in solitary confinement and without charge, to the ranks of the 81 journalists currently imprisoned.

Mr. Speaker, Erdogan cannot export the violent repression he visits on his own citizens to our streets. The violence of May 16th cannot go unanswered or forgotten. Yesterday, the House unanimously passed H.Res. 354, condemning the attacks and calling on the Administration to pursue justice and hold those who carried them out responsible, whether they be Turkish or not.

That is a good start, but it cannot be the end. The DC police department is carrying out an investigation into the attacks, and ultimately they will require cooperation from Turkish authorities in identifying those responsible.

Nothing that Turkey has done so far indicates that cooperation will be forthcoming, and indeed rather than show even the slightest contrition after their security forces assaulted Americans, authorities in Ankara instead summoned the US ambassador to lodge a complaint against the United States and police officers who sought to keep the peace. The message from Turkey is clear as day: We can do as we please, whether at home to our citizens or on your own American soil.

Mr. Speaker, I stand here today to affirm that we will not allow Turkey to beat innocent protestors on the streets of our nation's capital. We will continue to pursue justice, and to make clear that America will always stand up for the right of peaceful and free expression.