Turkey deposes some 260 elected village heads, arrests follow

President Erdogan has accused the elected officials of aiding Kurdish rebels.
author_image Rawa Barwari

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – With Turkey going to local elections in less than six months, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government deposed 259 elected village and neighborhood heads known as mukhtars mostly in Kurdish provinces in the latest wave of an ongoing crackdown on the opposition and the civil society.

A press release signed by the Interior Ministry Suleyman Soylu accused the dismissed officials of having “links to terrorist groups,” thus being dangerous to continue in office.

Erdogan and media close to him have alleged that they were aiding fighters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who are leading a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state for Kurdish self-rule.

The government has appointed bureaucrats in their stead.

Responsible for local affairs of their community, mukhtars are elected along with mayors in elections held every five years. But they cannot run on a political party’s list but can become a member of a party in a personal capacity.

Mukhtars driven out of office were elected in 2014 elections. Next local elections are set to be held on March 31, 2019. Erdogan recently promised to seize Kurdish municipalities again if mayoral candidates from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) win in the ballot box.

So far, police arrested at least two of those mukhtars, Mehmet Emin O. of the Ciftlik village in the Sanliurfa province and Hanifi Gulen of Karahasan in Diyarbakir, with charges of having ties to the PKK.

There are already over 10 former lawmakers, including the former HPD Co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, over 80 mayors, and some 7,000 members of Kurdish parties in Turkish prisons.

Mardin, Antep, and Van were other Kurdish provinces whose local officials were dismissed. Among them was Nebahat Durmaz, the first woman mukhtar in Mardin’s Derik district.

This move by the Turkish government follows a decision last week that targeted 559 village guards, Kurdish paramilitaries Ankara pays to help the Turkish army in the fight against fellow Kurds. The Interior Ministry leveled the same accusation of having ties to the PKK at them.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany