Turkish authorities plunder town halls before handover, pro-Kurdish party says

Across Turkey’s southeast, newly elected mayors of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) are accusing government-appointed officials of looting municipal offices and snatching city properties before handing over control.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling party, which has dominated Turkish politics for 17 years, suffered a major setback in the country’s March 31 local elections.

The HDP won back many of the 95 municipalities from where the government removed the party’s elected mayors and local councils and replaced them with administrators, in a massive crackdown following the failed 2016 coup.

While public attention has been focused on the disputed results of Istanbul mayoral vote, municipalities in the southeast have been all but ignored as appointed administrators and their loyal staffers have refused to deliver municipalities to the legally and legitimately elected mayors without taking nearly everything they can.

"They worked intensively in the municipality for two days, blocked entry and employees were given time off. There were hundreds of police inside. It is said that they removed things from there with trucks," said Ahmet Türk, HDP co-mayor for Mardin.

Real estate belonging to the municipalities, including some town halls, was also transferred to the state before HDP mayors took office. Necati Pirinççioğlu, co-mayor of southeastern Diyarbakır's Kayapınar district, viewed all this as plundering.

Ahead of local elections, Erdoğan repeatedly said if the HDP were voted back into office in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, the government could once again replace them with appointed administrators. Despite the warnings, the HDP managed to win back municipalities, yet not without consequences.

In the eastern province of Kars, most municipal buildings have been seized. The lawyers who are handling the confiscation are also lodging appeals against the election results on behalf of the AKP-allied Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), according to co-mayor Ayhan Bilgen.

“All municipal buildings in this city have been seized and can be sold at any time,” Bilgen said.

Despite getting trapped by debt, mayors across Turkey’s southeast said they planned to apply to overturn the transfer of municipal buildings and equipment.

In Şırnak's Cizre and Diyarbakır's Bismil districts, the municipalities no longer have town halls; they were allocated to the district governorate and the police department, respectively.

But Bismil's co-mayor Orhan Ayaz is not discouraged.

"They sold our building, they plundered,” said Ayaz. “We will build our town hall and our city together. We don't have a town hall, we will set up a tent.”