Twenty people beaten outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington in 2017 have filed lawsuits against the government of Turkey and five individuals after the bloody assault on demonstrators that drew international condemnation.
In a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in the District, 15 mostly pro-Kurdish demonstrators, nearly all U.S. citizens and residents, sought unspecified damages for injuries sustained when they said guards for visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan charged their ranks. Five other victims filed suit May 3 seeking more than $100 million in damages from Turkey.
Video of the May 16 melee outside the Sheridan Circle residence showed men in suits and olive-green military-style jackets kicking and bludgeoning protesters, including women carrying young children and men in their 60s. Victims contend they suffered concussions, seizures, neurological damage, lost and broken teeth and post-traumatic stress.
Analysts at the time of the high-profile violence on Washington’s stately Embassy Row called it another provocation in a U.S.-Turkey relationship strained by disputes over the war in Syria, Russia’s role in the Middle East and a conspiracy theory that the United States was behind a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
U.S. law generally bars private lawsuits against foreign governments but carves out exceptions, including for cases involving terrorism or wrongful actions by governments, officials or employees in the line of duty that result in injury or death on U.S. soil.
A spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.
n the lawsuits, attorneys recite U.S. State Department and human rights groups’ objections to Erdogan’s tilt to authoritarianism, crackdown on dissent, and the Turkish government’s political and military campaign against its Kurdish minority as the basis for their claims of hate crimes, human rights and terrorism violations. The filings also make allegations of assault and battery.
“The attack carried out by Turkish security agents and their sympathizers was a direct and brutal assault not only on our plaintiffs, but on a hallmark of American democracy — the right to peacefully assemble,” said Agnieszka M. Fryszman, co-counsel in the lawsuit filed Thursday and chair of the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm’s human rights practice.
Fryszman and co-counsel Joshua Colangelo-Bryan of Dorsey & Whitney said that the incident “is shocking and should shock the consciences” of Americans, and that whatever its diplomatic complexities, it poses a straightforward question.
“These are foreign agents trying to suppress a peaceful protest in our country, which makes it a somewhat unusual case, but the underlying conduct” is violent attacks and beatings, Colangelo-Bryan said.
The legal team reviewed 400 hours of surveillance, cellphone and camera videos, but after “about three minutes and 30 seconds of it, you would understand the whole case from start to finish,” showing people carrying children pushed to the ground, kicked and stomped in the head by men with guns and ID badges on lanyards, and a woman on the grass, trembling with seizures, Colangelo-Bryan said.
Murat Yasa, 61, a flooring company owner from Great Falls, Va., was among the protesters and is among the 15 plaintiffs in the larger lawsuit.
Yasa, a U.S. citizen of Kurdish descent who immigrated in about 1987, said he helped lead a protest at the White House and then at the ambassador’s residence on May 16, 2017, before he said he was beaten, kicked repeatedly by a ring of men and left bloodied with a concussion and a missing tooth.