On July 19, 2017, a coalition of protestors from various groups exercised their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, expression, press and assembly in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC. The protesters voiced their disgust and outrage against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) for their ongoing crackdown on civil rights. Since the failed coup of July15, 2016, over 50,000 people have been arrested and 100,000 detained, and media personnel, academics and rival politicians have faced severe pressure.
Protesters consisted of advocates for democracy and human rights from the Turkish and non-Turkish communities. Protestors of Armenian, Kurdish and Greek heritage were all present in addition to a sizable representation from the highest levels of American government, including Republicans and Democrats, showing that holding Turkey accountable is a bipartisan issue. Participating politicians included US Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jim Costa (D-CA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD).
Protesters showed up with signs and helmets to reflect their concerns for their own safety. In May, the last time a protest was held in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residency in Washington, DC, Pres. Erdogan’s personal security detail assaulted the peaceful protesters, and injuries ranged from minor bruising to longer term hospitalization for those attacked by his entourage.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said, “Erdogan beat people here, and the American people need to know this was nothing compared to the suppression and brutality that Erdogan is showing his own people in Turkey. Until [Erdogan] apologizes to the American people for having his thugs beat up American citizens who are expressing their opinion, Mr. Erdogan should not be welcome to come back in the United States for a visit.”
Rep. Paul Sarbanes noted, “In this country, under our First Amendment, under our constitutional democracy, we have the right to peaceably assemble… discrimination, aggression, repression, and violence directed at the Kurds, at Armenians, at other ethnic and religious minorities, and of course there’s the shameful legacy of the Armenian Genocide.”
Rep. Ted Poe highlighted the protesters’ obligation to publicly voice dissent, “You can stand here because you have the right to do so as an American and exercise your right, your right, and I think your duty to speak out against tyranny.”
Rep. Jim Costa spoke in agreement with his colleagues, stating, “The Turkish government owes us an apology and more than that; those injuries that took place are a reflection of the lack of respect of human rights in Turkey today where literally thousands of Turkish citizens have found themselves imprisoned, found members of the press in jail, only for trying to protect their own views.”
Scores of protesters showed up to challenge the Pres. Erdogan, the AKP and the Turkish government. The delegation of American elected officials highlighted the US government’s unwillingness to budge on First Amendment rights and degradation of liberties for American citizens and those acting lawfully on American soil.
The Armenian National Committee of America organized the event. Members of the Kurdish communities attended the protest, including some who were beaten by Erdogan’s guards at the protest in May.
5 members of congress, J Mcgovern, J Sarbanes, D Rohrbacher, T Poe & J Costa Americans protesting for First Amendment rights in Washington pic.twitter.com/ffUz8KFzVp
— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) July 20, 2017