As It Happens

The last time he protested Erdogan in D.C., he got his head kicked in — but he's doing it again

When Murat Yasa protested Turkish President Raycep Erdogan's U.S. visit in 2017, he was beaten so badly that he suffered long-term brain damage.

'I'm here and I'm not going to give it up,' says Kurdish-American Murat Yasa 

Demonstrators hold flags and signs as they protest the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Lafayette Square park in front of the White House in Wednesday. (Steve Helber/The Associated Press)
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When Murat Yasa protested Turkish President Racep Tayyip Erdogan's U.S. visit in 2017, he was beaten so badly that he suffered long-term brain damage.

But on Wednesday, the 62-year-old Kurdish-American was back in the streets of Washington, D.C. — this time sporting a hard hat — to protest Erdogan's latest White House meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump 

"I'm very emotional, of course. I mean, terrified. But I'm here and I'm not going to give it up," Yasa told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann from Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, where he was gathered with dozens of other protesters.

"But this time, I am going to prepare myself."

Violent 2017 clashes 

In May of 2017, Yasa and about a dozen others were protesting outside the home of the Turkish ambassador in Washington when they were attacked by a group Erdogan supporters and members of the president's security detail.

Videos of the protest showed men in dark suits and others repeatedly kicking protesters, including women and the elderly, as they lay on the ground.

"They were kicking me all over my head," Yasa said. "They were kicking me one after another, one after another, one after another."

In this frame grab from video, members of Erdogan's security detail are shown violently reacting to peaceful protesters in May 2017. (Voice of America/Associated Press)

Yasa sustained brain damage from the attack, he said, and still requires medication to sleep at night. He says he is haunted by nightmares about Erdogan and his supporters. 

Another protester, Toronto's Elif Genc, told As It Happens in 2017 that she sustained bruises and a concussion from the beating. 

Security guards go free, but protests grow 

A grand jury in the U.S. capital indicted 19 people for the attack on protesters in August 2017, including two Canadians who described themselves in an earlier interview with CBC News as staunch Erdogan supporters.

But in the spring of 2018, charges were suddenly dropped against 11 of the Turkish agents.

At the time, charges were still pending against Canadian Mahmut Sami Ellialti and Ahmet Cengizhan Dereci, who had not been arrested. As It Happens has reached out to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District Columbia for an update on their cases.

"As long as Mr. President [Trump] stays in power, I don't think those people who attacked us [will be brought] to justice," Yasa said. 

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators rally in protest on Wednesday. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

That's one of the reasons he's taken to the streets again this year. The protests are much bigger this time, he said, and the police presence is greater too. 

Dozens of people gathered in Lafayette Park waving Kurdish and American flags, and demanding that Turkey-backed forces withdraw from northern Syria, where Erdogan has launched a bloody offensive against Kurdish-led fighters.

The ensuing violence has been devastating for civilians. The UN says nearly 180,000 people have fled the area. The death toll varies, but the Kurdish Red Crescent told the Wall Street Journal in October that about 235 civilians have been killed.

Amnesty International has released a report documenting killings, human rights violations and possible war crimes caused by Turkey-backed forces in the region. 

"I'm a Kurd, but I'm a human, and my peoples are dying right now," Yasa said. "How could I not come here to protest Erdogan when he is killing innocent people?"

Turkey has maintained the offensive is meant to root out terrorists and protect civilians. 

Trump says he and Erdogan 'very good friends'

On Wednesday, Trump defended his decision to invite Erdogan, despite Turkey's advance into Syria — which was made possible by Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from the Turkish-Syrian border. 

The Kurdish-led fighters were allied with the U.S. for five years in campaign against ISIS in Syria, but Turkey considers them terrorists linked to the PKK, Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey.

Trump said that he and Turkey's president have been "very good friends" for a long time and understand each other's countries.

"I understand the problems that they've had, including many people from Turkey being killed in the area that we're talking about and he has to do something about that," Trump said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, gives a thumbs up while greeting Erdogan upon his arrival at the White House on Wednesday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The protesters aren't the only ones opposed to the Erdogan's visit. 

The U.S. House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly passed a bill to sanction senior Turkish officials and its army for the military incursion into Syria.

"This is not the time or place to be extending hospitality and exchanging niceties with a dictator," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat. 

A message for the president 

Yasa says he knows exactly what he would say to Trump, if he had the chance. 

"There's no human rights, there's no democracy in Turkey. You called the president, and then he came to attack your citizens [protesting in D.C.]," he said.

"So is this how you're going to make America great again? Is this the way you're going to have them respect your citizens? You're wrong. That's what I say."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Murat Yasa produced by Jeanne Armstrong.

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