May 23, 2024 | Policy Brief

Lawmakers Urge Blinken to Hold Turkey to Account for Assault on U.S. Citizens

May 23, 2024 | Policy Brief

Lawmakers Urge Blinken to Hold Turkey to Account for Assault on U.S. Citizens

More than 70 U.S. lawmakers signed a bipartisan letter on May 15 urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to hold Ankara to account for the 2017 assault on American citizens by Turkish security officials. The letter adds further U.S. pressure upon Turkey, which is already facing legal challenges over the issue that could result in fines.

During President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington, DC, on May 16, 2017, a group of peaceful protestors, mostly Kurdish in origin, gathered near the residence of Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, located at Sheridan Circle. They were there to protest the Turkish government’s harsh treatment of Kurds inside Turkey.

Erdogan’s security detail proceeded to punch and beat many of the protestors, including women, children, and elderly men. The assailants also injured six U.S. Secret Service officers. District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and other U.S. leaders condemned the attacks.

On June 6, 2017, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution (H. Res. 354) demanding the prosecution of the Turkish security officials under U.S. law. American authorities arrested two Turkish officers on June 14, charging them with aggravated assault. By August 2017, a grand jury indicted 19 defendants on charges of “conspiracy to commit a crime of violence.” Erdogan rejected the charges as baseless, and most defendants remain outside the United States.

Over the course of 2018, the Department of Justice dropped charges against several of the officers. It provided no official reason, although an anonymous source told The Washington Post that prosecutors questioned whether they had sufficient evidence to proceed. Separately, in May 2018, victims of the attack filed two civil lawsuits with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking more than $100 million in damages.

Both cases, Lusik Usoyan, et al., v. The Republic of Turkey, and Kasim Kurd, et al., v. The Republic of Turkey, are concerning to Erdogan because of the potential for having to pay hefty fines to the plaintiffs. To avoid the conviction of the defendants, the Turkish government attempted to claim sovereign immunity, an argument that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected in February 2020. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the District Court’s ruling in January 2021, finding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) does not protect security personnel who commit violence.

Ankara’s last-ditch attempt to overturn these decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court fell short, with the court declining to hear the case in November 2022. Consequently, the DC District Court’s original ruling will stand.

Thus, the new bipartisan letter, spearheaded by Reps. Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), requests that Secretary Blinken heed H. Res. 354 by asking Erdogan to recognize that violent attacks “by foreign actors on American soil against Americans cannot and will not be tolerated – that there must be consequences.”

Yet Erdogan is unlikely to take any action to address the letter’s demands. Many of the officers on his security team traveled back with him to Turkey on the day of the attack and remain at large.

Accordingly, Blinken must address this issue with his Turkish counterpart and devise consequences. The Biden administration must set a clear precedent that Washington cannot and will not tolerate such violence on American soil.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Sinan, the Turkey Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Sinan on X @SinanCiddi. Follow FDD on X @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.

Issues:

Sanctions and Illicit Finance Turkey