“Trustees” appointed to Kurdish Municipalities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, again!

The Erdogan regime is determined in maintaining its authoritarian and unlawful rule that has been targeting the Kurdish provinces for the last three years. Since the local elections of 31 March 2019, HDP municipalities have been under constant threats and attacks of Mr Erdogan-led AKP government and their ultra-nationalist MHP allies. These threats took on a further bearing on 19 August 2019 when the Ministry of Interior removed the co-mayors and disbanded the municipal assemblies of three HDP-held Kurdish metropolitan municipalities of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van.

HDP municipalities and the popular will that they represent were already severely circumvented, since when the Erdogan regime had declared a two-year-long state of emergency rule in Turkey following the abortive military coup of 15 July 2016, and used this to the end of furthering authoritarian consolidation. In that context, a Government Decree (No. 674) was issued in September 2016, which soon allowed, as a 2017 UN Report noted:

“the wholesale replacement of elected officials of Kurdish origin throughout South-East Turkey…  with [central government appointed] “trustees.” In most cases, the “trustees” were appointed immediately following the arrest of the democratically elected officials, indicating a high degree of coordination between the judiciary and the executive branches.”[1]

From September 2016 to February 2018, 94 of 99 local governments ran by DBP, (HDP’s sister-party in local governments at the time), including four metropolitan and ten provincial municipalities in the Kurdish region, were disbanded and replaced with trustees. Ninety-three co-mayors and hundreds more municipal assembly members were imprisoned for varying terms. Although the State of Emergency officially ended in July 2018, its regulations, including those relating to local governments, were ratified at the Turkish Parliament as permanent by-laws and remained intact.  In the run-up to the 31 March 2019 municipal elections, 50 Kurdish co-mayors were still in prison, 29 of whom had been under pre-trial arrest for about two years.

In virtually all cases from 2016 to 2018, the removal of Kurdish mayors was done under Turkey’s notably expansive anti-terrorism law. As has been widely criticized by also transnational observers, this law with “its broad and excessively vague definition of terrorism, organised crime and propaganda, makes it manifestly impossible to determine the precise nature of such offences,” and acts as “an instrument for the repression of internal dissent,”[2] at a general level. This arbitrariness is all the more acute when the “terror” charge is raised against expressions of Kurdish demands, especially within the recent context of comprehensive backsliding to Turkish state’s tradition of denial of Kurdish identity and conflict –a process that has gained momentum since after Mr Erdogan turned over the negotiation table with the Kurdish dissent in April 2015, and declared: “There is no such thing as the Kurdish problem” and, “whoever utters it is committing separatism.”

In the local elections of 31 March 2019, HDP won the overwhelming majority of Kurdish municipal offices usurped by the Erdogan regime, and the regime’s authoritarian and unlawful practices promptly resumed. First of all, although the Turkish Election Law (No 3627) requires the pre-approval of eligibility by local election boards for each and every candidate, close to a hundred candidates who won the ballot were denied their certificates of election with the excuse of previous or pending investigations against them. Six HDP candidates who won mayoral offices in Kurdish districts were not given their election certificates with the reasoning that they had previously been dismissed from public office with emergency government decrees. In their stead, certificates were granted to the AKP candidates who had lost the ballot. Furthermore, eighty-eight HDP municipal council members were denied their certificates of election by the Interior Ministry purportedly on the grounds of pending criminal investigations (for details, see Appendix 1).

Most recently, on 19 August 2019, the Interior Ministry removed from office Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality Co-Mayor Mr Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, Mardin Metropolitan Municipality Co-Mayor Mr Ahmet Türk, and Van Metropolitan Municipality Co-Mayor Ms. Bedia Ertan Özgökçe (See Appendix 2 for Mayors’ bios).

In its written statement, the Ministry of Interior tried to justify this government coup over the Kurdish electorate’s will with pending “terrorism” investigations against our mayors. The Ministry remarked: “Mayors who are linked with terrorist organizations and have been found to support terrorist organizations have been dismissed under Article 127 of the Constitution and Article 47 of Municipal Law No. 5393.” Pass the arbitrary and obscure nature of anti-terrorism charges, as noted above, the Ministry’s remark is worth a scandal if only for its unabashed declaration of the verdict in pending trials, and its avowal of the extent of the executive’s control over the judiciary.

The Interior Ministry also listed HDP’s co-mayor system as a reason for the purge of our mayors, targeting this practice as “evidence” of HDP’s connection to a “terrorist organization.” HDP pursues a co-chairship system in all of its bodies and at all levels of representation as a policy of gender equality. Local governments are not exempt from this practice. The existing Municipal Law does not recognize the system of co-mayorship. Nevertheless, we carry out this practice both de facto and with full public transparency and consent by informally nominating one of our municipal council candidates in local electoral platforms as “co-mayor” throughout the campaign period. For us, this practice is an essential component of promoting gender equality in political representation, and we would deem it an insult to defend it against any terror charge.

Not only the purge of our mayors but also their replacement by government-appointed trustees involves a coup against the Kurdish democratic will. Turkey’s Municipal Law (No 5393) rules that in case a mayor is suspended or dismissed from duty, the municipal assembly elects one of their members are the new mayor. This rule was observed each time when, in the previous term, AKP, MHP and CHP mayors were removed from office for one reason or the other. An additional clause to Article 45 of the Municipal Law in 2016 exempted this rule for “cases of dismissal of mayors due to links with terrorist organizations,” and authorized “Interior Ministry and governors [to] designate individuals to replace them.” This state of emergency clause was later rendered permanent and has been implemented for the cases of purged DPB and HDP mayors without any exception.

This special administration reflects the outgrown hostility towards the Kurdish people’s existence and rights, which has been a constitutive feature of Turkey’s authoritarian backsliding under Mr Erdogan-led AKP-MHP coalition since 2015. In this process, not only has the Kurdish popular democratic will was suppressed by the purging of their parliamentary or local government representatives from their mandates, but a comprehensive regime of oppression and intimidation has been put into practice in Kurdish cities and towns to hamper the possibilities of popular protest. Thus, most recently in the early morning hours of 19 August, before the Interior Ministry’s decision of purge decision was issued, the police detained at least 418 public figures in Diyarbakır, Van, Mardin and many other provinces in coordinated preemptive house raids. After the purge of our mayors, provincial governors banned and preemptively incriminated any form of protest as “aiding terrorism,” using another state of emergency power.

Nevertheless, the Kurdish electorate has been powerfully standing in defense of their rights to democratic representation. For the past two days, mass non-violent protests have been carried out in Diyarbakır, Van, and Mardin, which have been met with police brutality. Hundreds of protestors have been detained in the process, and dozens have been injured and hospitalized, including HDP MPs Ms Feleknas Uca, Ms Ayşe Acar Başaran, Ms Tülay Hatimoğulları, Ms Semra Guzel, Ms. Serpil Kemalbay, Ms Remsiye Tosun, Mr Kemal Pekoz, and Mr Ridvan Turan.

It is imperative to note that this discriminatory hostility against the popular Kurdish will involves, and yet seeks to hide under a Turkish nationalist rhetoric of "terrorism," a more profound and comprehensive affront to whatever has remained of the principles of democratic representation and the rule of law in Mr Erdogan’s Turkey. Turkey's sliding into institutional autocracy had started with the purging of HDP parliamentarians with the utter complicity of other opposition parties, including the Republican People's Party (CHP). Unless the non-HDP opposition takes an immediate and univocal position against this unconstitutional coup against the popular will, it is highly probable that the municipalities held by other opposition parties will soon be targeted in the same manner –such as the CHP-run Ankara and İstanbul metropolitan municipalities.

As HDP, we remain committed as ever before to protesting this autocratic coup against the popular will of our electorate as part of our struggle for a pluralist democratic political system, a powerful local democracy, and sustained peace in our country. We urge Turkey’s larger political opposition and the international democratic community to lose no time in acting against this coup and fulfilling their part in leading Turkey back into the path of parliamentary and local democracy and the rule of law.

[1] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Report on the Human Rights Situation in South-East Turkey, July 2015 to December 2016.
[2] European Parliament Motion for a Resolution to wind up the Debate on the Statements by the Council and Commission Pursuant to Rule 123(2) of the Rules of Procedure on the 2015 Report on Turkey (2015/2898(RSP). 

Hişyar Özsoy
Vice Co-chair of HDP Responsible for Foreign Affairs
MP for Diyarbakır
20 August 2019