ISTANBUL — Turkey’s foreign ministry on Monday lodged a formal protest with the U.S. ambassador to Ankara over what it said were “lapses of security” during a violent confrontation between protesters and Turkish bodyguards during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington earlier this month.
The summoning of the ambassador, John Bass, sharply escalated a diplomatic rift between Turkey and the United States after the brawl, which prompted outrage in the United States, as well as calls for the prosecution of the Turkish guards and even the expulsion of the Turkey’s ambassador in D.C.
American and Turkish officials have provided directly contrasting versions of how the violence unfolded. Local police officials said the Turkish guards savagely attacked a peaceful protest outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence as Erdogan was visiting. The melee, which was recorded by video journalists, showed what appeared to be Turkish security guards kicking and choking protesters as the D.C. police struggled to contain the unrest. The footage also showed that Erdogan was watching, from a distance, as the fighting raged.
Turkish diplomats have criticized the local police for failing to quell an “unpermitted” and “provocative” demonstration.
The Turkish foreign ministry’s statement on Monday went even further, criticizing “the inability of U.S. authorities to take sufficient precautions at every stage of the official program.” And it demanded that the United States conduct a “full investigation of this diplomatic incident and provide the necessary explanation.”
The spiraling argument appeared to undermine what by all accounts had been a friendly meeting between Erdogan and President Trump before the violence at the protest. In a joint press appearance at the White House, the two leaders were full of mutual praise and spoke of hopes for a closer and more productive relationship.
But the rift has also laid bare policy disagreements, particularly over the war in Syria, that have stirred tensions in the relationship between the two allies. Turkey has been angered by the Trump Administration’s decision to arm a Kurdish force to fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria as a military partner with the U.S. Turkey says the group is an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S.
Kurdish activists were among the protesters in D.C. on May 16 outside the ambassador’s residence, according to footage of the violence. Some held signs in support of Selahattin Demirtas, the co-leader of a pro-Kurdish political party who is currently in prison and facing prosecution in Turkey. Others held the flag of the YPG, the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish force.
It is not clear from the footage exactly what set off the melee, but Turkish security guards, as well as men in suits who were standing among a pro-Erdogan contingent can be seen attacking the protesters, including repeatedly kicking a man who lay prone on the ground. Another video shows that Erdogan himself watched the protest, after emerging from his car in the ambassador’s driveway.
Turkey’s semiofficial state Anadolu news agency on Saturday released its own, edited video version of the protest that it said showed the genesis of the attack: a water bottle, thrown by a protester.