Trustee councils replace daycare with Quran courses, sack 2,000 officials

The Democratic Regions Party (DBP) has compiled a report detailing the significant social, political and cultural damage resulting from the government’s imposition of handpicked “trustees” in Turkey’s Kurdish areas. The government-appointed trustees have taken over from elected municipal officials who have been removed by decree under the ongoing state of emergency.

The DBP’s report contains a statistical breakdown of the individuals and organisations damaged by the trustee appointments over the last year, including over 2,000 officials who have lost their positions, 94 municipalities placed under trusteeship, and 70 mayors jailed, including 23 women.

The report also details the destruction caused by the use of weaponry in numerous cities and villages across Turkey’s southeast since Oct. 30, 2014, when conflict resumed between the Turkish Armed Forces and Kurdish separatists. This, it reports, has resulted in 2,360 deaths, including 368 civilians, and the displacement of over 400,000 people.

Besides these striking details, the report provides in-depth information of a range of authoritarian practices carried out by a government that has taken full advantage of the state of emergency since immediately after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. This has allowed the central government to greatly extend its control over local municipalities through legal amendments that are pushed through without parliamentary debate. Decree-law 674, signed on Aug. 15, 2016, is a prime example of this, granting the government the authority to appoint trustees of local administrations, and to remove local officials from office and seize their movable assets.

The result of this has been a harsh crackdown by the government, affecting citizens and organisations in diverse fields. The report counts over 110,000 purged public servants, around a quarter of whom are women, and over 25,000 purged academics.

This is in addition to over 5,000 associations, schools, unions, universities and media organisations closed down over the same period, and arrests and detentions numbering almost 20,000.  

Among those arrested were high-ranking DBP officials and local administrators from the 94 municipalities handed over to government-appointed trustees since Sept. 11, 2016, in actions that the report describes as akin to “robbing citizens of their right to participate in government”.

The report also describes the draconian measures implemented in the municipalities as they were handed over to trustees. These included intensive police searches of local government buildings, the forceful removal of officials and councillors from these premises, and the enforcement of stringent security measures as trustees arrived at their new municipalities, accompanied by a heavy police escort including water cannons and riot vehicles. According to the DBP’s report, local officials protesting these incidents were assaulted by the police and arrested.

The appointment of trustees has deprived local municipalities of a vital mechanism to oversee budget expenditure, the report states. Municipal councils ordinarily gather to work on and debate an approved budget for twenty days without a break, before appointing a supervisory commission to ensure that it is properly implemented. However, in trustee-controlled municipalities, these meetings have not taken place, allowing the trustees arbitrary control over the budget with no mechanism for oversight.

Trustees have also had a deep impact on the local cultural life, starting from the most fundamental level of language. Trustees have been appointed in areas which are home to diverse multi-lingual populations, yet in these areas Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian and Arabic-language signs are being replaced with those written only in Turkish.

This is just one of a host of measures aimed at overturning local cultural values in favour of an approach that amounts to a policy of assimilation, according to the report.

Daycare centres that had catered for children in their native, Kurdish language have been replaced by Quran courses. Monuments memorialising the victims of state massacres have been removed. A cinema in Batman dedicated to the iconic Kurdish director Yilmaz Guney was destroyed in a suspicious fire after being closed by the trustee administration.

Social projects have been similarly stricken by trustee initiatives including the closure of a rehabilitation clinic for drug addicts.

One of the areas most heavily targeted by the trustees has been social projects aimed at defending women’s rights, with officials working on women’s policy removed from office or transferred and dozens of women’s centres and shelters shut down.

These actions, and the extensive and arbitrary sackings of public servants, have attracted international condemnation, with a report by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission published last October describing the situation in Turkey as contrary both to international law and the country’s own constitution.

The actions against local municipalities are a blow to democracy as a whole. The central government’s long-term aim to create uniformity has proven counterproductive and exacerbated the conflict, while its attempt to solve problems in the Kurdish region through securitisation can only perpetuate the conflict.