ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday blamed an alliance of Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian groups proscribed by Turkey for noisy protests in Washington which led to scuffles with his security guards.
The protests took place as Erdogan was due to speak last week at the Brookings Institution in Washington, with the intervention of Erdogan’s security detail on foreign soil causing new concerns about freedom of speech in Turkey.
Speaking at the airport on his return to Istanbul after the almost week-long trip to the US, Erdogan blamed a collection of groups banned by Turkey for the protests.
He said he saw at the protest “representatives” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state, and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey accuses of being the Syrian arm of the PKK.
Erdogan said that there were also representatives of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), which carried out a string of deadly attacks in the 1970s and 1980s purportedly aimed at avenging the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 in World War I.
He said the PKK, YPG and ASALA representatives were all working in cahoots in the protests with allies of Erdogan’s arch enemy, the US-based exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of running the Parallel State Structure group (PDY) and plotting to oust the government.
“The situation that took place ahead of the conference was really, really significant,” Erdogan said.
“I saw myself representatives from the Parallel State Structure who have fled our country side-by-side and right next to those from” the PKK, YPG and ASALA, he said.
“This is the proof, this is the evidence,” he added.
Just ahead of Erdogan’s arrival at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Turkish security officials clashed with the crowd — both sides exchanging insults and scuffling — before local police were able to separate them.
The incident amplified concerns about the heavy-handed treatment of journalists and campaigners inside Turkey. But Turkish officials insist there is no restriction on freedom of speech in the country, so long as the law is obeyed.