Protests broke out in three cities in eastern and southeastern Turkey after the government “temporarily removed” their mayors on August 19. The mayors of the cities of Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin were accused links to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). They have been replaced with state-appointed governors, who will temporarily serve as trustees.
All the three mayors belong to the pro-Kurdish, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and were elected during the mayoral polls held in March. The Turkish interior ministry issued a statement accusing the municipalities headed by these mayors of becoming “logistical centers for ensuring militant [resources], financial support and equipment for supporting terrorist activities.”
Diyarbakir mayor Selcuk Mizrakli, Mardin mayor Ahmet Turk, and Van mayor Bedia Ozgokce Ertan were elected with 63%, 56% and 53% of the votes, respectively. According to the interior ministry, there are active cases against all three for spreading “terrorist propaganda” and for being “members of a terrorist organization.”
The protests that broke out following the decision to remove the mayors were met with police repression. The police resorted to the use of water cannons to disperse the protesters. In Diyarbarkir, the police cordoned off the municipality building.
In a related development, the Turkish police arrested at least 418 people across 29 provinces in the country, for alleged links to Kurdish armed groups.
The PKK has mounted an armed resistance against Turkey for over 35 years, with the goal of establishing a separate Kurdish state. The HDP has strongly denied any links with the PKK and points out that it only advocates for Kurdish political, cultural and linguistic rights through legal and democratic means.
The HDP, in an official statement, responded to the decision of Turkish government, saying that it was based on “unlawful grounds” and was part of a “political coup”. It also stated that the decision reflected an openly hostile attitude towards the political will of the Kurdish people.
The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, from the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), also condemned the removal of the three mayors. Imamoglu’s own mayoral win in March was declared null and void. However, he comfortably secured the seat again when the re-elections were held in June.