Turkey removes elected pro-Kurdish mayors for second time

Turkey removes elected pro-Kurdish mayors, accused of links to terrorism, for the second time
4 min read
19 August, 2019
Mayors and other members of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) have previously been removed from their posts and jailed in Turkey.
Politicians from the pro-Kurdish HDP have regularly been accused of links to terrorism [AFP]

Turkey on removed three elected mayors from their posts on Monday, alleging the pro-Kurdish politicians are linked to "terrorist organisations".

The government also detained more than 400 people for alleged links to Kurdish militants, the interior ministry said.

The mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van - cultural and political centres in Turkey's majority-Kurdish southeast - are all members of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish leftist party that holds great sway over voters in the southeast.

The HDP slammed the move as a 'clear political coup'.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly linked the party to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant organisation that has been engaged in an on-off civil war with the Turkish state since the early 1980s. It is classed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, NATO, the European Union, the United States and Canada, among other states.

Those allegations have seen the party's former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, and eight more former HDP lawmakers, thrown in prison.

A broadcast by CNN Turk showed police sealing off the Diyarbakir municipality headquarters with metal barriers. Water cannons and riot police were seen outside.

"For the health of the investigations, they have been temporarily removed from their posts as a precaution," the interior ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency Anadolu.

Diyarbakir Mayor Selcuk Mizrakli, Mardin Mayor Ahmet Turk and Van Mayor Bedia Ozgokce Ertan stand accused of membership in the PKK and spreading terrorist propaganda.

A central accusation is that the party's co-presidency system has been forced upon municipalities by the PKK. 

The HDP has both a male and female chair, with many posts in the party also shared between men and women.

Turkey's mayoral system does not allow for two people to collectively run for the same post, but the HDP's use of co-mayors is well known among the electorate.

"Such municipalities… have been used as an instrument against the indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation," the ministry said.

"Having lost the feasibilities of the municipalities after the appointments of [trustee] mayors, the [PKK] and its political extensions regarded the [March local elections] as an opportunity to resolve its challenges," it added.

"The terrorist organisation exerted heavy efforts to nominate candidates who would be easily led… and would be under its guidance and orientation."

The mayors have temporarily been replaced by the government-appointed governors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van.

Not the first time

Erdogan, ahead of the March local elections this year, had warned of such a move against elected officials if they were deemed to have links to the PKK.

At the time, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 178 electoral candidates were under investigation for alleged links to the PKK.

It is not the first time Turkey has removed elected HDP mayors.

Dozens of mayors from the party were dismissed and replaced with government-appointed "trustees", accused of membership in or links to the PKK, in late 2016.

Demirtas, Yuksekdag and other HDP lawmakers were also taken into custody that year.

Nearly a hundred mayors and thousands of party members were detained in the crackdown.

The "trustees" in power in cities across the southeast were accused of large-scale corruption when their elected replacements took office in early April.

Lawmakers from Turkey's largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), condemned the move.

"It is impossible to associate [this] with democracy and democratic practices," said Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu in a tweet. "Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable."

CHP MP Ozgur Ozel slammed the ruling Justice and Development Party, accusing it of choosing "fascism over democracy".

"Our Municipal Co-chairs, who were elected with 63 percent of the vote in Diyarbakır, 56 percent of the vote in Mardin and 53 percent of the vote in Van, have been removed from duty with an interior ministry order based on lies and unlawful grounds," the HDP said in a strongly worded statement.

"This is a new and clear political coup. It also constitutes a clearly hostile move against the political will of the Kurdish people... This is not only the problem of the HDP and the Kurdish people, but the common problem of all the peoples of Turkey and all forces of democracy."