Turkish mayor calls for self-rule, demand denied to Kurds

"What I am saying is let Istanbul govern itself. Let nobody intervene. Let it decide for itself."

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) - The Mayor of Turkey's largest city Istanbul demanded more authorities for his office from the central government on Thursday, a call that has led to the incarceration of hundreds of elected Kurdish officials.

Mayor Kadir Topbas of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said he needed a "more flexible" state apparatus to run affairs of Istanbul in whose metropolitan area about 15 million people live.

"We administer Istanbul with laws [applicable to] Malatya, Denizli, and Diyarbakir. It just is not working," said Topbas speaking to a local constituency, reported privately-owned Ihlas news agency.

Autonomy or self-rule is a very delicate topic in Turkey as the public, and the country's leaders readily associate it with Kurdish self-determination in the east and southeast, parts of geographic Kurdistan.

"What I am saying is let Istanbul govern itself. Let nobody intervene. Let it decide for itself," Topbas elaborated.

Although there have been suggestions for giving more administrative powers to regional authorities to peacefully solve a decades-long warfare between the Turkish Army and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), state officials and the media vilify any talk of federalism.

Previous demands, particularly by the pro-Kurdish parties for the empowerment of local authorities such as municipalities, have met harsh reaction from the strictly unitary Turkish state.

The government has dismissed 100 democratically-elected mayors of Kurdish towns and cities in about a dozen provinces since early 2016 with charges of supporting terrorism and acting against the territorial integrity of the state.

Of the mayors sacked by the Interior Ministry, 47 are currently held in jails across Turkey.

Ankara accuses Kurdish officials of collaborating with the PKK whose local youth militias, after declarations of autonomy, dug trenches and unsuccessfully fought off the Turkish Army in months-long clashes that claimed two thousand lives in several provinces.

Kurdish politicians deny the accusations yet prosecutors continue to press for years or in some cases even centuries in prison.

Mayors of the three largest Kurdish metropolitan areas, Gultan Kisanak of Diyarbakir, Bekir Kaya of Van, Ahmet Turk of Mardin are among those removed from office, tried and imprisoned.

Authorities released Turk last month, as Kisanak is facing 230 years in jail whereas Kaya is still serving a 15-years sentence given in 2016.


Editing by Ava Homa