Two Turkish-American supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were sentenced to one year in prison Thursday with credit for time served for violently attacking anti-Erdogan protesters during a demonstration that left 13 people injured outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence last year.
The protests were sparked by Erdogan’s visit to Washington in May.
“I was disappointed. Justice did not prevail,” said Abbas Azizi, one of the victims who testified at the sentencing hearing Thursday. Azizi is a naturalized citizen who said he moved to the U.S. from East Kurdistan to avoid persecution. The Turkish government killed Kurds, he said.
Kate Nahapetian, executive director for the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights, said the defendants should have been setence to up to 15 years in prison for what she referred to as a hate crime. Nahapetian believes the sentence will encourage more violent acts.
The men who were sentenced, Sinan Narin and Eyup Yildirim, were arrested in June 2017 and will be released this June.
Murat Yasa, another victim of the attack, who also said came to America in 1987 to avoid persecution, said supporters of Erdogan outnumbered the protesters and became aggressive. The demonstrators tried to avoid the clash by crossing the street.
“All I had time to do was cover my friend Lusik with my body,” Yasa said. He was kicked repeatedly in the head and the back. “I felt like they were beating me forever and would not stop until I was dead.” He believed the attack was organized by the Turkish government to rob him of his right to speak out against them peacefully.
Lusik Usoyan said she suffered brain injuries as a result of the attack. She’s unable to go to the bathroom or walk down stairs without help. She suffers from memory loss.
“Without memories, a human is just an empty box,” she said during her testimony at the sentencing hearing. “I know for sure that, the moment when I was on the ground and was getting kicked in the head by these two defendants, Sinan Narin and Eyup Yildirim and others, that if those police officers were just a moment late I wouldn’t be alive.”
According to court documents, 10 to 20 supporters of pro-Kurdish political parties in Turkey and Syria as well as Kurds from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey carried signs and chanted with bullhorns when they were confronted by between 30 and 50 pro-Erdogan supporters, Turkish security personnel and people who appeared to be additional staff of of the Turkish delegation.
Police separated the two groups, but Narin and Yildirim, along with others, were able to break through the police line in what Judge Marisa Demeo called a shocking disregard for law enforcement.
“Shocking because it is the opposite of democratic American values,” she said.
Narin’s attorney said his client is a former member of the Turkish military and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had become triggered by the unfurling of a PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, flag at the protest.
“He lost control and directed the violence at someone who did not attack him,” said the attorney.
Yildirim’s attorney said his client had no criminal record prior to the protest and lost his temper after his friend was beaten with a bullhorn.
“Are we only going to prosecute people on one side of the ledger?” asked his attorney.