EU questions Turkey’s respect for democracy after dismissal of Kurdish mayors

(Updated with Council of Europe statement)

The Turkish government’s decision to replace the newly elected mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van, three key provinces in the country's predominantly Kurdish southeast, puts its respect of democratic outcomes into question, an EU Commission spokesperson said on Monday.

The Turkish Interior Ministry announced on Monday that three mayors, all of whom were elected in March for the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), had been removed from their posts and replaced with state-appointed governors. 

“The replacement of Selçuk Mızraklı, Bedia Özgökçe Ertan and Ahmet Türk by state governors is of serious concern as it puts the respect of the democratic outcomes of the 31 March elections into question,” spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič said. “Dismissals and detentions of local politicians and appointment of trustees deprive voters of political representation at local level, and seriously risk damaging local democracy.”

Turkey’s Interior Ministry on Monday also announced that 418 people had been taken into custody in relation to terror-related investigations in 29 provinces, Sol news site reported

The Turkish government accuses the HDP of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting an insurgency inside Turkey for more than three decades. 

“While the Turkish government has a legitimate right to fight terrorism, it is also responsible for ensuring this is done in accordance with the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in its Constitution and Turkey’s international commitments and not for political reasons applying broad anti-terror or criminal legislation,” the EU Commission said. 

Anders Knape, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, on Tuesday expressed his grave concerns about the dismissals in a written statement.  

Following a 2016 coup attempt, Turkey’s government replaced more than 90 elected HDP mayors in southeast provinces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said before this year’s March 31 vote that a similar move might follow if terror-linked mayors were elected. 

“In the past, the Congress expressed its concern about the excessive use of legal proceedings against local elected representatives in Turkey and their replacement by appointed officials. This practice seriously undermines the proper functioning of local democracy,” Knape said. 

Knape urged Turkish government to restore the capacity of municipal councils to choose a replacement mayor.