Turkish interior minister threatens to “ruin” opposition Istanbul mayor over support for Kurdish HDP

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has threatened to take action against Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu after he showed solidarity with Kurdish mayors suspended by the government last month.

İmamoğlu visited the suspended mayors of Diyarbakır, Selçuk Mızraklı, and Mardin, Ahmet Türk, in a symbolic show of support after the pair and Van Mayor Bedia Özgökçe Ertan were suspended for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants on August 19.

The three mayors for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been temporarily replaced by government-appointed provincial governors, after the interior ministry accused them of using their position to benefit outlawed militant group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“We dismissed these three, and then the newly elected mayor of Turkey’s biggest city (Istanbul) went running to defend them. They’ve never denied, to this day, having a connection to the PKK,” left-wing daily BirGün quoted Soylu as saying.

The dismissals also revived speculation that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government could take similar measures to reclaim major cities including Istanbul and Ankara that it lost to the opposition in this year’s local elections.

Before the March 31 local elections, the president said his government would dismiss mayors it saw as PKK-linked.

“The mayor of Istanbul rubs shoulders with those who have links with terrorism in Diyarbakır … “Those who cannot take up a position against terrorism cannot be a mayor or a politician," Erdoğan said on Sunday.

Echoing Erdoğan’s words on Tuesday, the interior minister said İmamoğlu would pay a heavy price if he continued to involve himself in national politics.

“Do your job, we can deal nicely with you, but if you continue busying yourself in other affairs we’re going to ruin you,” Soylu said.

Politicians from İmamoğlu’s secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) were quick to hit back after Soylu’s statements, with the party’s deputy chairman Seyit Torun slamming the unelected minister for threatening an elected official.

“I’m inviting you to show some respect to the national will and the decision of the people,” Torun said in a tweet.

“Soylu is not of the people, he’s a puppet who threatens and insults in place of his master,” said CHP Manisa deputy Özgür Özel in a tweet.

“To Soylu, who is threatening the twice-elected mayor of one of the world’s biggest metropolises: know your place and sit down!” he said.

Ankara lists the PKK, which has fought Turkish security forces for Kurdish self-rule since 1984, as a terrorist organisation. Politicians from the HDP have come under frequent fire and faced legal repercussions for alleged links to the group since peace talks between Ankara and the PKK broke down in 2015.

Many in Turkey regard the charges against HDP politicians as political, and the secularist CHP that İmamoğlu belongs to has voiced support for the party since the mayors were suspended.

Critics of the government have noted that the three mayors were removed from their positions just months after being elected in the local polls this year, and that the state electoral authority had approved their candidacy.

But Soylu dismissed criticism that the mayors had been removed arbitrarily, and said the HDP had taken sides with the PKK when the peace process broke down.

During its campaign for the March 31 local elections this year, the AKP accused politicians from the CHP and other opposition parties of supporting terrorism by informally cooperating with the HDP in some municipalities.