US officials say that the men captured on camera assaulting the protesters were bodyguards of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The men allegedly had accompanied the controversial Turkish leader as part of his official retinue during his visit to the United States.
About two dozen demonstrators converged outside the Turkish embassy to protest the Erdoğan regime, specifically his government's relationship with the Kurdish minority. The video depicted counter-demonstrators in dark suits descending on the protesters, some from the direction of the embassy.
1. A protest turned violent outside Turkish embassy in Washington, DC after Trump and Erdogan met pic.twitter.com/xpiaMPcc5y— Petros Kasfikis (@PetrosKas) May 17, 2017
"It was a pretty aggressive assault by people who were very well prepared. I think they were security or bodyguards or part of that contingent that traveled with President Erdogan," said Aran Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, who took the now widely-circulated video.
During the fight, nine individuals were injured, one of which was a police officer. At least one of the wounded demonstrators suffered severe injuries.
This video outside of the Turkish Embassy in DC of President Erdogan's body guards attacking protesters is horrific. pic.twitter.com/rhaFskwtk1— Beatrice-Elizabeth (@MissBeaE) May 17, 2017
"They think they can engage in the same sort of suppression of protest and free speech that they engage in in Turkey," said Flint Arthur, one of the protesters. "They stopped us for a few minutes… but we still stayed and continued to protest Erdogan's tyrannical regime."
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser called the fighting a "violent attack on a peaceful demonstration" and an "affront to DC values and our rights as Americans."
"I strongly condemn these actions and have been briefed by Chief Newsham on our response," she said in a statement. "The Metropolitan Police Department will continue investigating the incident and will work with federal partners to ensure justice is served."
DC police announced two arrests: Necmi Ayten, a 49-year-old New Yorker who owns an e-commerce business, was arrested for aggravated assault, while Jalal Kheirabaoi, a 42-year-old Virginian was arrested for assault of a police officer.
Neither of the men arrested were Erdoğan employees. However, DC police say that they will continue to pursue charges against anyone guilty of criminal acts during the protests.
"This is a city where people should be allowed to come and peacefully protest," said DC Chief of Police Peter Newsham in a brief Wednesday news conference. DC police have announced that they have partnered with the State Department and the Secret Service to identify the culprits behind the violence.