Anger growing in Turkey over removal of pro-Kurdish mayors

Anger is growing over a lack of services and development in the southeastern Turkish province of Mardin, six months after its popular mayor was removed and replaced by the government, AFP said on Saturday.

Mardin’s Mayor Ahmet Türk, a veteran Kurdish politician and member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), won 56.2 percent of the vote in the March 2019 elections, but was removed from his post in August by the government.

Residents in Mardin complained to AFP about the performance of the government appointee that replaced Türk. 

"No one bothers, no one wants to do anything, and no one speaks up. We're speaking to you now, who knows what will happen to us tomorrow?" cafe manager Fırat Kayatar told AFP in late February.

"No one listens anyway," one of Kayatar’s customers, Abdülaziz, 57, added. "We can't complain to anyone. (The governor) brings bananas but we need bread."

A total of 40 out of 65 municipalities won by the HDP are now under the control of government-appointed trustees, including in other major cities in the Kurdish-majority region such as Diyarbakır and Van. 

The HDP accused Turkey’s government last month of making it "even harder for the Kurds to fight the coronavirus" through the "repression of Kurdish democratic institutions, their municipalities in particular."

The government has accused the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Ankara previously removed 95 HDP mayors after the party won 102 municipalities in 2014.

Türk was acquitted in February in one case cited against him when he was removed as mayor of Mardin the first time in 2016.

"When it comes to the HDP, just slapping trumped-up terror charges is the easiest way to go and it's just a political attempt to destroy their legitimacy," Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Emma Sinclair-Webb told AFP.

She said that the government's aim was to "collapse any distinction between the HDP, a legal party playing by the rules of the game in parliament and democratically-elected representatives from this party, and an armed organisation.”

A 2018 report showed that almost one third of the HDP’s members had been detained since a peace process between Turkey and the PKK collapsed in 2015, and thousands of HDP members remain in prisons, making up a significant portion of Turkey’s 50,000 prisoners who face terrorism charges, according to HDP lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu.