ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey's Interior Ministry on Monday removed metropolitan mayors of the country's three major Kurdish provinces of Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van only months after the nationwide March local elections and as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had promised before over accusations of “links to terrorism.”
Just as the news of the sacking of the democratically-elected mayors from the opposition Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) broke, the ministry also said that police forces arrested 418 people in those cities and 26 others in connection of what it said was membership to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The highly-centralized Ankara government moved to appoint the unelected governors of the three cities instead of the mayors: Diyarbakir’s Adnan Selcuk Mizrakli, Mardin’s Ahmet Turk, and Van’s Bedia Ozgokce Ertan. The governors who now assume the role of unelected mayorship moved into the municipal buildings under intense security measures provided by hundreds of police officers who cordoned off main boulevards, closed streets with armored vehicles and dogs.
Pictures on local media from inside the municipal buildings showed the governors’ first act to be the hanging of official portraits of Erdogan in the mayor’s office.
The HDP and the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) officials swiftly condemned the Erdogan administration’s latest decision, which they denounced as “unlawful, undemocratic, and fascistic.”
The HDP reminded that the dismissed mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van - all provincial municipalities each with over one million population — were elected with 63, 56 and 53 percent of votes, respectively. In a written statement, the party called on all sides not to “remain silent,” for “silence means approval.”
CHP’s head of the parliamentary group, Ozgur Ozel, said the Erdogan government was bringing its own legitimacy through elections into questioning by removing elected officials in the Kurdish cities. “The government has chosen fascism over democracy,” he said. Ozel was joined by scores of other CHP lawmakers and mayors, including the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, who himself was removed from his elected post in the aftermath of his contested victory on March 31, in rejecting Erdogan’s move.
Locals in the Kurdish region contacted over the phone by Kurdistan 24 said access to social media networks, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, were all blocked for hours.
Editing by Nadia Riva