Protesters who were assaulted after disrupting a speech by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in New York City said on Friday they believed Erdogan's bodyguards were among those who beat them.
"He orders his bodyguards to attack the protesters every time," Azad Kurd, one of the people protesting Erdogan's speech, told ANF News. "At the Marriott Protest in New York, we tried to show the American people that Turkey is no different than DAESH, their ideology does not differ. We were attacked by Erdogan's bodyguards and dragged out. I personally heard Erdogan calling us protesters ‘terrorists' because we simply protested like any normal citizen would."
Multiple videos of the event taken by attendees and the news outlet Voice of America on Thursday show the protesters begin to disrupt Erdogan's speech to the Turkish-American National Steering Committee, a pro-Erdogan group, at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square as he takes the stage. One by one, the six protesters stand up and chant at Erdogan. One by one, they are attacked by the audience and removed by security.
As they are being removed from the event by security who are dressed in suits, audience members mostly dressed in casual clothing yell at them and physically attack them. While some of the protesters are being removed, men in suits can be seen physically attacking them. It is unclear from the video exactly who the men in suits that punch and hit the protesters are or who they work for.
2. Clip from another angle, notice how Erdogan's bodyguard punches the American protester in the face as he's being led out? All in NYC. pic.twitter.com/q035nt8Ah4
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) September 21, 2017
3. All in NYC…another angle, Erdogan's bodyguards beating up American protesters. pic.twitter.com/72RgFZDOJS
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) September 21, 2017
U.S. officials presented differing accounts of the incident when asked for details by the Washington Free Beacon. The State Department first suggested contacting the Secret Service about the incident. The Secret Service, however, pointed to Voice of America's story on the incident and questioned why the Secret Service would be involved.
The Voice of America story "notes members of the audience allegedly assaulted protesters, and the event was organized by a private organization—not a U.S. government agency," David Lapan, deputy assistant secretary for media operations at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, told the Free Beacon. "Why do you think the Secret Service was, or should be, involved?"
Both federal agencies referred the Free Beacon to the New York Police Department for details on arrests in the case.
The NYPD initially said Secret Service agents were the ones who escorted the protesters out of the event with one agent being punched in the face in process. However, they later updated their statement to say it was private security who had escorted the protesters out of the venue but confirmed a Secret Service agent was punched.
"There were approximately 1,500 people inside of the Marriot Marquis Hotel for a speech by the president of Turkey," Sophia T. Mason, a detective at the NYPD's Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information, told the Free Beacon. "During the event six individuals disrupted the speech and, as they were being escorted out by private security, individuals in the crowd punched those who were being escorted out. During the incident a Secret Service agent was punched in the face. There have been no complaint reports filed regarding the incident."
The NYPD did not immediately answer questions on the circumstances of the Secret Service agent being punched in the face nor did it relay any information on whether any charges are expected in the case. The Secret Service did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the NYPD's statement on the involvement of their agents in the incident. Neither commented on whether or not Turkish security personnel were involved in the assault.
The State Department, however, said it does not believe Turkish security personnel were involved in the assault. "According to U.S. law enforcement officials, at this time it does not appear that Turkish security officials were involved in this incident," a State Department official who asked not to be named told the Free Beacon.
The violence against protesters in New York City on Thursday is similar to the violence against protesters when Erdogan visited Washington, D.C., in May. That incident resulted in felony indictments for 19 individuals, including 15 Turkish security personnel. Only two of those indicted have been arrested by U.S. authorities. All 15 Turkish security personnel facing indictments remain at large.
Earlier this week, the White House denied Erdogan's claim that President Trump apologized to him for the May attack.
The State Department said while they don't believe Turkish security personnel were involved in the attack on protesters in New York, they are committed to holding the Turkish security personnel who have been indicted for their roles in the attack on protesters in Washington, D.C., responsible.
"We are committed to holding those responsible for the violence on May 16 accountable," the same State Department official said. "As we have previously stated, the events surrounding the conduct of Turkish security personnel during President Erdogan's visit to the United States are troubling. Now that charges have been filed and two arrests have been made, the department will weigh additional actions for the remaining named individuals, as appropriate under relevant laws and regulations. Any further steps will be responsive and proportional to the charges."
Azad Kurd said the protests of yesterday's event were necessary to show the world how Erdogan's government, which cracked down on political opponents and media outlets last year, deals with opposition from Kurds and others.
"This action was necessary because Americans and the rest of the world must see Turkey's true face, which sponsors terrorist groups like DAESH," he told AFN. "I would like to notify the AKP government that no matter where we are, as the supporters of the Kurdish movement, we will always stand up for what's right and we will never bow down to the dictatorship of the Erdogan-ruled Turkish government. We hope the people of the world saw the truth of the attacks—that they are barely a fraction of the violence that the Turkish state commits against the Kurdish people every day in Rojava and Bakur."
The Turkish government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.