İmamoğlu visits ousted Kurdish mayors in Turkey’s southeast in show of solidarity

The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, on Saturday took a symbolic step in embracing the country’s Kurdish population by visiting the country’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır, the stronghold of the Kurdish political movement, and meeting with Kurdish mayors, who were dismissed in a crackdown on the group by the Turkish government last week.

“In a place where elected officials do not leave offices via elections, there can be neither democracy nor the rule of law. The will of the people reflected in ballot boxes is not something that some in power can declare valid or invalid according to their own wishes,” left-wing news site Duvar quoted İmamoğlu as saying in Diyarbakır.

The Turkish Interior Ministry last week removed the mayors of Diyarbakır, Van, and Mardin, who were elected from the predominantly-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in local polls on March 31. The government appointed the governors of those provinces temporarily as new mayors.

“I have brought you the greetings of 16 million people from Istanbul. I hope that they put an end to this lawlessness soon,‘’ İmamoğlu told the dismissed mayor of Diyarbakır, Selçuk Mızraklı and Mardin, Ahmet Türk.

İmamoğlu stressed the need to strengthen the voice of democracy in the country across the political spectrum.

“We are here to give you strength… our concern is the damage being inflicted on the democracy of our country. If democracy strengthens and the local administrations are in competition, believe me we will solve all of the problems on this land,‘’ İmamoğlu said.

HDP’s Türk said that despite being in different areas of the political spectrum, Turkey’s political groups should be able to work together in a common democratic struggle.

“We have come to the point where we no longer have tolerance,‘’ Türk said. “That is why we are emphasising the importance of cooperation and partnership.‘’

HDP’s Mızraklı said that last week’s dismissals were the latest in a series of democratic earthquakes in Turkey, calling on cooperation from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to create a Turkey free of social polarisation.

“Your arrival here is a source of hope for us. We thank you,‘’ Mızraklı said.

A peace process between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party ( PKK),  an armed group that has been at war for autonomy in Turkey for over three decades, collapsed in 2015. The PKK insurgency has killed 40,000 people since 1984. Since the failed talks, Ankara has implemented a crackdown on Kurdish groups, particularly HDP lawmakers, which it accuses of harbouring sympathies and acting in the interests of the PKK.

The crackdown on Kurdish dissidents also shifted the political lines of different groups. While the main opposition CHP for years staunchly objected any move for peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish state, the CHP and HDP voters in recent years coalesced around their opposition to President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The Kurdish votes played a pivotal role in Turkish opposition’s victories in five of the six most populous provinces of the country in March polls as the HDP did not field candidates in those places

“I want to remind the dates March 31 and June 23 once more to those who seemed to have forgotten how the people responded to those dismissals and election reruns that had been despite the disapproval of the public’s conscience,” İmamoğlu said.

İmamoğlu declared victory on March 31 in Turkey’s financial powerhouse with a slim 13,729-vote difference. The AKP appealed the election results in Istanbul over electoral irregularities and the country’s Supreme Election Council scheduled a rerun on June 23.

But İmamoğlu only widened his lead to over 800,000 in the rerun and was finally authorised as the new mayor of Istanbul, which had been ruled by the AKP and its predecessors for 25 years.

“It has been seen that a small minority that resorted to lies and smears to cancel the Istanbul election in fact intended to continue squandering practices, which they greatly exploited. Unfortunately, there are signs showing that the intention behind the practice of government-appointed mayors is also to sustain these squandering schemes,” İmamoğlu said.