DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Has Turkey’s Kurdish movement come to the end of the road after two decades as a major player in local administrations? It is a troubling question for many in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, where, a year after local elections last spring, the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is left with only 19 of the 59 mayoral offices it had won. The rest have been taken over by government-appointed trustees. Not even the coronavirus outbreak has slowed Ankara’s crackdown, which, many now fear, will continue until the last HDP-run municipality is seized.
The Kurdish political movement made its first major foray into local administrations in 1999 by winning 37 municipalities in the conflict-torn southeast, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has led an armed insurgency for nearly four decades. For ordinary Kurds, winning and running local administrations has been a source of pride. Kurdish mayors — often elected by a landslide — were the main political voice of the aggrieved minority in the many years the Kurdish movement was absent from the parliament in Ankara. Over the years, Kurdish mayors were often accused of links with the PKK and mismanagement, facing trials, inspections and vitriol. Yet, despite its heavy-handed policies on the Kurdish issue, Ankara never attempted an all-out purge.