Thursday, March 31, 2016

Violence Erupts on Think Tank Row Amid Visit by Turkish President

The usually subdued think tank row in Washington, DC erupted into violence today as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was visiting the Brookings Institution.

Erdogan was giving a keynote speech at the think tank entitled "Global challenges and Turkey's goals for the year 2023."  A video can be watched here.

Foreign Policy has done an excellent job of covering all the chaos that occurred.  Here are some excerpts:
A planned speech by the controversial Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan descended into violence and chaos Thursday, with one journalist physically removed from the event site by Turkish security personnel, another kicked by a guard, and a third — a woman — thrown to the sidewalk in front of a Washington think tank where he was to speak.
A small group of protesters gathered across the street from the Brookings Institute near Dupont Circle in Washington, with one holding a large sign reading “Erdogan: War Criminal On The Loose,” while another used a megaphone to chant that he was a “baby-killer.”
When the protesters tried to cross the street, Washington police officers blocked traffic and physically separated them from Turkish personnel. A Secret Service agent standing nearby told a colleague that “the situation is a bit out of control.”
Later, a shoving match between what appeared to be a Brookings Institute worker and Turkish security broke out. “I am in charge of this building,” the apparent Brookings employee shouted as the two tangled. A Foreign Policy reporter and others holding cameras outside the event were also scolded by Turkish security.  One cameraman was chased across the street by Turkish guards.
There were also confrontations between Turkish security and D.C. police. The Turkish officials wanted police to remove protesters, and the cops refused.
In a statement late Thursday, Brooking’s spokesperson Gail Chalef said that the think tank did its “best to ensure that journalists and other guests who had registered in advance for the event were able to enter.” She added that she believes all journalists who registered were able to attend.

The full, must-read Foreign Policy piece can be read here (make sure to watch the embedded videos).  We told you that think tank events aren't ALWAYS boring.

Ironically, in 2013, Turkey blamed the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for protests in Turkey.  We wonder if Turkey will blame Brookings for protests on US soil...

Update: Foreign Policy in now reporting that Brookings threatened to cancel the Erdogan speech after his security personnel "pushed, threatened, and kicked both Western and Turkish journalists" and protestors in front of the think tank.  FP says: "In a tense exchange, Brookings President Strobe Talbott told a Turkish official that the organization was prepared to call off the visit even though Erdogan's motorcade was already en route to the event."  FP adds that the cancellation of the event would have been an embarrassment for both Brookings and Erdogan because the speech had been heavily publicized and attracted an overflow crowd.