Murat Yasa was beaten by Erdogan's guards. But he's not backing down.

"As long as I breathe, as long as I live, I am not going to give up to the dictators," the Kurdish-American activist said.
Image: Murat Yasa
Murat Yasa was attacked by Turkish President Erdogan's security guards in May 2017. Al Drago / for NBC News

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Daniel Arkin

Murat Yasa was sure he was going to die.

What had started as a peaceful protest outside the Turkish ambassador's home in Washington two years ago devolved into violence. Yasa, a Kurdish-American activist protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's human rights record, was beaten by Turkish security officials in an attack caught on video.

They stomped his head again and again, he recalls, kicking it like a soccer ball. They shouted curses in Turkish. They left him bloodied and bruised — broken nose, loose teeth, searing pain across his body — and he was rushed to a local emergency room.

The scars linger.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Yasa told NBC News he struggles with memory loss, and a neurologist told him he has brain tissue damage. The sheer outrage of the May 2017 attack — foreign bodyguards and Erdogan supporters pummeling U.S. citizens in the nation's capital — still infuriates him.

But he will not be deterred. That is why Yasa, 62, plans to return to Washington next month when Erdogan is scheduled to pay another visit to the U.S. on Nov. 13.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

"I feel terrible," Yasa said when asked for his thoughts on Erdogan's visit. "I feel like a truck crashed [into] me, and then an 18-wheeler is going to crash into me again."

"But as long as I breathe, as long as I live, I am not going to give up to the dictators," Yasa later added. "I will always stand up for the innocent people against tyranny."

Yasa suggested the upcoming protest of Erdogan's visit has recently taken on greater urgency. He is deeply angered by Erdogan's incursion in northern Syria and the siege on the Kurdish people — and devastated by what he sees as President Donald Trump's betrayal of the Kurds by pulling U.S. forces out of the region.

"This is insane. This is not acceptable," Yasa said. "How could [the Trump administration] give the green light to Turkey to commit genocide against your allies?"

He conceded that returning to the scene of the chaotic melee is not without risk, and he said he fears for the safety of his family, including his children. But he nonetheless feels compelled to stand up to the Turkish regime and to Erdogan himself, whom he called "evil."

Murat Yasa in his home in Great Falls, Va., on Tuesday.Al Drago / for NBC News

A total of 19 people, including 15 identified as Turkish security officials, were indicted by a grand jury in Washington in 2017; charges against 11 people were later dropped, according to The Associated Press.

The security guards, some in dark suits and ties, were caught on video brushing past U.S. law enforcement and attacking a small group of protesters with their fists and feet. They could be seen kicking one woman as she lay on a sidewalk and throwing another woman to the ground.

In one video, Erdogan can be seen looking on as his security guards clashed with the protesters. By the end of the brawl, nine people had been hurt, including Yasa.

The Turkish government has previously blamed the violence on the protesters, who they allege were linked with the PKK, a group the U.S. State Department considers a foreign terrorist organization. Yasa, for his part, denied that he is a member of the PKK, adding that he has "no link" with the group.

Yasa has been politically engaged for much of his life, saying that he was "always protesting" the Turkey government over its treatment of minority groups, including Armenians, and rallied for women's rights in his native country and elsewhere.

He fled Turkey and settled in the United States in 1987, eventually gaining U.S. citizenship in 1992. He started his own flooring and granite company in northern Virginia, where he lives with his family.

He expressed disappointment that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence did not firmly denounce Erdogan, but he said he was heartened that the U.S. House of Representatives voted 397-0 to pass a resolution condemning the violence of 2017.

Yasa emphasized that he has nothing against the Turkish people, adding that several of his Turkish friends were horrified by the video of the beating. The target of his anger and source of his sorrow is Erdogan, who he believes orders far greater atrocities in his own country.

"If he can do this in [Washington]," Yasa said, "imagine what he can do in Turkey."