News & Politics

Protesters Sue Turkey Over Attack by Erdogan’s Guards in DC

The five American citizens are asking for $310 million.

Douglas Bregman and Andreas Akaras. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

People beaten by Turkish government security agents in DC last year filed a suit Friday against the Republic of Turkey. The suit, which asks for $310 million in damages, was filed in US District Court in DC and is a rare civil action against a foreign government. It was brought on behalf of five American citizens and claims Turkey and its agents committed assault, battery, conspiracy, and terrorism. One of the plaintiffs is Lucy Usoyan, who suffered brain damage in the attacks.

The suit arises from protests against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last May in Sheridan Circle. Midway through the protests, Turkish security agents, along with Turkish-American citizens, rushed through police lines and assaulted primarily Kurdish protesters. Screaming “Die, Kurds!” they beat and kicked the protesters, including Usoyan.

Video of the attacks enraged members of the House of Representatives, which approved a resolution 397-0 “for perpetrators to be brought to justice and measures to be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

Friday’s lawsuit relies primarily on the Foreign Sovereignties Immunity Act (FSIA), which defines specific violations of US law for which foreign governments can be sued in US courts. “The FSIA is not meant to be a foil to protect rogue countries or the leadership of any state from being sued in US courts,” says Andreas Akaras, a litigator with Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday, the Bethesda firm that is helping bring the case. Steven Perles, who has won judgments and damages against Libya under the FSIA, is part of the legal team.

Michael Tigar, a DC attorney who successfully sued Chile over the assassination of Orlando Letelier in 1976, is representing another set of victims of last May’s attacks. That lawsuit has not yet been filed.

Last July a federal grand jury returned indictments against 19 Turkish men on charges of ranging from aggravated assault to hate crimes. The Justice Department has since dropped charges against all but four. Two men arrested for the attacks pleaded guilty to charges and were sentenced to a year behind bars.

The Turkish embassy declined to comment on the civil suit filed Friday. Erdogan has scoffed at the criminal indictments.

The lawsuit filed Friday remains under seal until the judge rules on a motion to keep the names of some of the plaintiffs secret.