Mayoral dismissals a setback for Kurdish movement and Turkey - analysis

Turkey’s dismissal of Kurdish mayors this week was a desperate political move that will only delay any solution on the country’s most urgent political issue, said an analysis for Zenith magazine, published by Berlin-based Candid Foundation. 

Turkish authorities on Monday removed the mayors of Turkey’s three largest Kurdish majority cities, Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van, on terrorism charges and replaced them with appointees. All three had been elected in March with sizeable majorities for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, which government officials say is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost several key cities in March 31 local elections, including Istanbul, where thanks to the HDP, the Kurdish vote played a key role in securing victory for Ekrem İmamoğlu and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), according to Walter Posch, researcher at the Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Management in Vienna.

The AKP also faces split-offs from party luminaries such as former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan and former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who can appeal to conservative, Islamist and tribal Kurdish voters, according to Posch. This means Erdoğan must now rely even more on nationalist votes. 

“He must bring something to the table to bolster the support of his newfound right-wing allies,” said Posch. “Punishing the Kurds seems a convenient way to achieve exactly that.”

Syria also played a role in the dismissals, as AKP voters have grown increasingly wary of Syrian refugees, putting pressure on Ankara to stop any further arrivals and begin to send home the 3.6 million already in Turkey. 

A full-blown offensive into northeast Syria, as Turkish officials have repeatedly warned, would likely spur an uncontrollable stream of refugees, including possibly thousands of jihadis, according to Posch. One option, if Ankara feels compelled to crack down on Kurds, is to go after elected officials in southeast Turkey. 

In dismissing the mayors, Erdoğan sought to take back the political initiative, interrupt a CHP-HDP rapprochement and rehash the age-old Turkish political plan of equating the Kurds with terrorism, according to Posch. 

“This is a panicked reaction of someone who is well aware that him and his cronies are on a slippery slope towards losing power,” said Posch. 

“The Kurdish question is the most important issue of Turkish politics and will remain so until real reconciliation takes place,” Posch added. “By eliminating constitutionally guaranteed legislative representation – obviously acting on an ethnic and racist prejudice – Erdoğan further alienates Turkey’s Kurdish citizens and drives another generation away from democratic and onto the path to revolutionary politics.”

Whenever the current crisis subsides, Turkish leaders like Erdoğan will have to negotiate with respected and experienced HDP political operatives about Kurdish rights in Turkey, said Posch.