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U.S. Voices Concern After Violence During Erdogan Visit

Brawl At Turkish Ambassador's Home In Washington
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WATCH: Brawl At Turkish Ambassador's Home In Washington

The United States has expressed concern to Turkey in the "strongest possible terms" after members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail clashed with anti-Erdogan protesters in Washington.

"Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Erdogan was in Washington on May 17 for talks with President Donald Trump, but his visit was marred by violence between his bodyguards and pro-Kurdish demonstrators.

Witnesses said Turkish bodyguards pushed past a Washington police cordon outside the Turkish ambassador's residence and attacked the protesters with their fists and feet.

A police spokesman described the assault as a "brutal attack on a peaceful protest" and said investigators were studying video evidence and would seek to identify and question the suspects.

Two suspects -- not from Erdogan's detail -- were arrested at the scene and 11 people were hurt.

"We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms," Nauert said.

Turkey's state-owned Anadolu Agency reported on May 17 that members of Erdogan's security team were involved in the scuffle but said they were responding to provocative actions by the protesters.

Others among the pro-Turkey delegation accused the protesters of triggering the clash, during which several men wearing suits and others in more casual clothing repeatedly punched and kicked protesters while they lay on the ground.

Police scrambled to contain the violence but were unable to restrain several people involved.

Video of the incident showed a handcuffed man in a suit sitting on the ground.

Doug Buchanan, a local fire- and emergency-services spokesman, said two of the nine people hurt in the incident suffered serious injuries and were taken to the hospital.

The incident unfolded the same day that Erdogan and Trump held talks at the White House, a meeting that came amid continuing bilateral tensions on a range of issues, including Washington's recent agreement to arm Kurdish militia fighters in Syria that Ankara links to terrorists.

A local Washington affiliate of the U.S. network NBC reported that Erdogan was inside the ambassador's residence in northwestern Washington at the time of the clashes, and members of the pro-Turkish group said they had come to greet the visiting president.

The protesters included supporters of Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, as well as Armenian-Americans.

Armenia demands that Turkey take responsibility for the massacre of at least 1 million ethnic Armenians during the rule of the Ottoman Empire, which Armenia and many other countries label as "genocide."

Turkey admits many Christian Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces, but denies the killings were orchestrated and constituted a genocide.

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Washington-based Armenian National Committee of America, said in a video he shot from the scene of the brawl that people he presumed to be Erdogan supporters "stormed the street" to attack "peaceful" protesters and "left many, many people bloodied."

"It's one thing for there to be this kind of violence in Turkey, that's a terrible thing. It's far worse for that violence to be exported to America," Hamparian added in an interview with local television.

One woman interviewed by local television claimed she was put in a headlock by a member of Erdogan's security detail.

"I was so afraid and angry, of course, because we're in the United States. They cannot just attack the woman or any person," the woman, whose name was not given, said in the interview.

Pro-Turkey demonstrator Busra Eren, referring to the acronym for the Kurdish militia that the Trump administration has agreed to arm, said that "one of the YPG supporters ran across, picked up a megaphone, and hit a Turkish citizen with it."

Gunay Evinch, a Washington-based attorney of Turkish heritage, told a local affiliate of the CBS network that the anti-Erdogan protesters charged at the pro-Turkey rally.

"Those provocateurs were successful in getting exactly what they wanted, which was to be responded to," he said.

Lucy Usoyan, a Yazidi Kurd demonstrator, said that the Erdogan supporters suddenly "just ran toward us."

"Someone was beating me in the head nonstop, and I thought, 'Okay, I'm on the ground already, what is the purpose to beat me?'" she told ABC television.

Andalou reported that Erdogan’s security "intervened" after police were unable to control the situation.

The Turkish Embassy's press office did not answer calls or an e-mail seeking comment on May 17.

In March 2016, Erdogan's bodyguards clashed with protesters and journalists in Washington outside of the Brookings Institution think tank, where he delivered a foreign-policy speech.

With reporting by VOA, AP, AFP, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Anadolu Agency,, and CBS News