Andreas Akaras, a Maryland lawyer who’s worked in Congress, helped recover unpaid wages for thousands of workers, and defended people seeking asylum and immigration privileges, doesn’t think it’s overwhelming to go after a whole government – Turkey, whose security agents in Washington, D.C. beat protesting American citizens outside the Embassy in May, 2017.
“If you look at it from a purely political context there would be horse trading and see the State Department or Justice (Department) or anyone else soft pedal the issues,” he told The National Herald, with the charges dropped against 15 of the 19 Turks who rampaged on the streets of the nation’s Capital. Two pleaded guilty and received a year sentence each.
Akaras is part of an extensive team which includes his Bethesda firm, Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday and also Steven Perles, who has won judgments and damages against Libya under the Foreign Sovereignties Immunity Act (FSIA), being used in this case.
The lawsuit filed remains under seal until the judge rules on a motion to keep the names of some of the plaintiffs secret.
The suit is being brought in US District Court in Washington, a rare action against a foreign government but not unprecedented and claims, on behalf of five American citizens, that Turkey and its agents committed assault, battery, conspiracy and terrorism.
One of the victims, Lucy Usoyan, 35, was among Kurdish protesters outside the residence of Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States, protesting the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was in the city to meet US President Donald Trump.
“Kurdish bitch!” Usoyan told The Washington is what she heard as the demonstrators crossed Massachusetts Avenue. In front of the residence, a large group of men had gathered. “Die, Kurds!” they shouted. “Kill the terrorists!”
She’s ethnically Kurdish, which makes her a blood enemy to Turkish ultra-nationalists and that made her a target.
Erdogan’s guards swarmed past outnumbered police officers and attacked protesters in a vicious five-minute swirl of brutality captured on video. Nine protesters were hospitalized, a police officer and a Secret Service agent were hurt and Usoyan suffered a brain injury.
And so far, the Turks have mostly gotten away with it.
Seeing the video enraged Congress, which approved by a unanimous 397-0 vote a resolution calling “for perpetrators to be brought to justice and measures to be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.”
Akaras, who was a non-resident Fellow & Professor of Practice, Innovation and Public Policy at the Dukakis Center for Public and Humanitarian Service at the American College of Thessaloniki, Greece, is one of a team trying to make sure there is justice yet.
“There continue to be many members of Congress who were incensed over what happened,” he said, fully aware of the US’ need for Turkey as a geopolitical ally but wanting to hold the state to account for the actions of its agents on American soil, act off bounds even for the spy community.
“I don’t think we’re tilting at windmills and don’t want this case to be confused with politics as usual,” he said, adding that FSIA gives his clients standing against Turkey which could, of course, ignore the suit as Erdogan is wont to do – “at their peril,” he added.
“It’s really a fundamental case where you have agents of a foreign government conducting themselves in a manner that assaulted individuals expressing their rights of free speech,” he said, the kind of demonstration that in Turkey has brought violent police responses, tear gas and jailing of dissidents.
“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,” Akaras told The Washingtonian in another story about the incident.
Michael Tigar, a Washington 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, the site said.
It’s taking a team to go after a state, including Douglas Bregman, the principal counsel in his firm, which has 26 attorneys, as well as Perles, who has won more than $6 billion in civil suit judgments, including $2.6 billion against Iran for a 1983 bombing in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 240 US Marines.
“Both of these men deserve a lot of credit for taking on the case, bringing their expertise to the issue, and committing resources to it,” said Akaras, who said he knows what he’s up against but is just as committed.
“It’s not so far fetching or challenging,” he added, even when you’re going up against a state like Turkey.