Turkey said the clash Tuesday was the fault of demonstrators who aggressively provoked Turkish-Americans who had gathered to see Erdogan. The demonstrators said they were attacked by security forces as they peacefully protested. A video shared on social media Thursday showed Erdogan watching the melee.
Lucy Usoyan, 34, of Arlington, Virginia, said the protesters chanted "Long Live USA" at one point and then shouted "baby killers" when Erdogan arrived at the residence after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Before she could react, she was on the ground being beaten with "boots on my head, nonstop," she said. She passed out and spent the night in a hospital, where she was told she had a brain injury that could take up to six weeks to recover from, she said.
"In their country, they can do whatever they want to," Usoyan said of her attackers. But she thought before the demonstration, "Well, no one will do anything violent because it's American soil." The U.S. State Department called Tuesday's clash "deeply disturbing" and insisted there would be a "thorough investigation" to hold those responsible accountable. Tom Shannon, the acting deputy secretary of state, met Wednesday with Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kilic to discuss the altercation.
U.S. lawmakers demanded stronger action. Republican Sen. John McCain said the government should "throw their ambassador the hell out." Turkey's U.S. embassy alleged the demonstrators were associated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency against Turkey and is considered a terrorist group by the United States.
But Mehmet Yuksel, who arrived immediately after the incident and knows almost all of the little over a dozen demonstrators, said they weren't connected with that group. The victims included Americans, he said, and there was no justification for the attack.
"It's so easy for Turkey to blame everyone who is a victim," said Yuksel, the representative of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party in the United States. Yuksel said one demonstrator seen in video of the attack carrying a bullhorn and being repeatedly kicked is in his 60s. The man suffered loose and broken teeth and had to return Friday to a hospital, he said.
Ceren Borazan, seen on video in a headlock, said in a Facebook post that the attack "popped a blood vessel in my eye." "He held me and threatened to kill me. I was scared for my life," she wrote of her assailant.
"Among us, we had people who needed stitches and had concussions from these vicious attacks," she wrote, adding that the "experience has shown us that as Kurds, we are not even safe from Turkey's racism and terrorism here in the United States."
A man Borazan identified as her attacker has been charged with assault. The other person charged in the incident, Jalal Kheirabadi, 42, of Fairfax, Virginia, is charged with assaulting a police officer. But Kheirabadi told The Associated Press earlier this week he was a victim, not an aggressor. Kheirabadi said he joined the demonstration, saying "Erdogan is a terrorist" and "Mr. Trump, please say, 'No,' to Erdogan," when Turkish security staff "just attacked us."
Tuesday's incident isn't the first time violence accompanied a visit by a Turkish leader to the U.S. Last year, violence erupted outside Erdogan's appearance at a nuclear security summit in Washington, and there have been scuffles at the United Nations.
P.J. Crowley, a former assistant U.S. secretary of state during the Obama administration, said there are limits to what the United States can do in response because antagonizing Erdogan could put U.S. diplomats at risk.
"It's always dicey. For example, you could limit the number of bodyguards that a president is allowed to bring, but then that invites a reciprocal action by the host nation," said Crowley, a professor at George Washington University in Washington. "They might choose to thin out the protection for a diplomatic mission."
And the United States needs to work with Turkey in its fight against the Islamic State group, Crowley said. The Trump administration acknowledged it released two members of Erdogan's detail after holding them briefly after the incident. A U.S. official who wasn't authorized to comment publicly on the matter and requested anonymity said the guards were released under a globally recognized custom under which nations don't arrest or detain visiting heads of state and members of their delegations. The guards are back in Turkey with Erdogan.
Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols, Josh Lederman and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.