Statement by our Foreign Affairs Spokespersons Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy:
Having left behind the presidential and parliamentary elections, we are now approaching the local elections that are scheduled for late March 2024. And we see no difference in President Erdogan’s new government’s attitude towards the HDP and its elected mayors.
On 9 June 2023, the co-mayors of Patnos, Ms. Müşerref Geçer and Mr. Emrah Kılıç, and several other people who work for the municipality were detained. After three days of detention, the co-mayors were arrested on charges of “rigging tenders.”
There have been incessant pressures against HDP municipalities and appointments of Turkish trustees to replace elected Kurdish mayors since 2016. After the 30 March 2014 local elections, HDP won 102 municipalities and trustees have been appointed to 95 of these municipalities and 93 co-mayors were arrested. In the local elections held on March 31, 2019, the HDP’s 65 candidates were elected as mayors. Subsequently, the government denied six mayors their election of the certificate on totally unlawful grounds, deposed the majority of elected mayors and appointed trustees to 48 of these municipalities. The elected mayors were left in place only in six municipalities, including 4 districts and 2 towns. Patnos was one of the district municipalities where no trustees were appointed. Since August 2019, 83 co-mayors have been detained, and 39 mayors arrested. With the latest arrest of Patnos co-mayors, the number of detained and arrested co-mayors has increased to 85 and 41, respectively. The number of co-mayors who are still behind bars is 26, including also those arrested after 2016.
The arrest of co-mayors of Patnos demonstrates that the government, which has totally disrespected and destroyed the democratic will of Kurdish people since 2016, will continue its sheer unlawfulness in the times ahead. The March 2022 Report and Recommendations on Turkey of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe still awaits implementation. The report underlined that appointing trustees to replace elected Kurdish mayors is “contrary to the spirit of the European Charter of Local Governments”. The Congress also specifically asked the Turkish authorities to “stop the current practice of suspending mayors without court decisions, make all possible efforts to reconcile the legitimate fight against terrorism with the requirements of local democratic life and accordingly use the technique of the suspension of mayors with the greatest possible caution and restrictive approach, with the aim to respect the presumption of innocence and the system of democratically elected representatives” and “discontinue the practice of appointing a governmental trustee in municipalities where the mayor has been suspended and modify the legal framework so that whenever a mayor is suspended, the opportunity is given to the council to appoint an interim or acting mayor from among its members, in accordance with the possibility contained in the original version of the Municipality Law of 2005 (Art. 45) and until the procedural situation of the suspended mayor is clarified”. If such measures specified by Congress are not implemented, the unlawful practice of appointing trustees to replace Kurdish mayors will continue after the upcoming local elections.
The naked fact is that there is virtually no local democracy in Kurdish provinces where the HDP did win the local elections in 2014 and 2019. Millions of voters elected hundreds of mayors, but Kurdish cities and towns are ruled by “trustees” appointed by the central government since October 2016. It is not an exaggeration to call this a form of “colonial rule,” where the electoral will of the Kurdish people is totally nullified. Frankly, the Council of Europe and its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities have done almost nothing practically effective that could have deterred the Turkish government.
As we get closer to the local elections, we would like to once again draw the attention of the international community to the situation of HDP-run municipalities and dozens of elected Kurdish mayors who are still kept behind bars unlawfully. And we specifically call upon the Council of Europe and its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to go beyond issuing opinions and reports (which nobody even cares to read anymore, let alone implementing what they recommend); and take effective action against the wholesale destruction of democratic institutions and local democracy in Turkey. Such action may not stop the crimes of Turkish government, who does not even respect the decisions of the ECtHR, but it may save the Council of Europe from being complicit in such crimes, and sustain its relevance and integrity.
Feleknas Uca & Hişyar Özsoy
HDP’s Co-spokespersons for Foreign Affairs
19 June 2023