Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan answered questions Wednesday night while flying back from a visit to Russia, telling reporters that new judicial actions would be opened into recently dismissed mayors with the nation’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
On Aug. 19, the HDP mayors of the southeastern cities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van were suspended for alleged links to terror organizations and allegedly misusing municipal funds to support the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that has been waging war against the Turkish state since the 1980s.
The mayors were replaced with state-appointed governors and their dismissals brought the total number of HDP officials suspended since the March 31 municipal elections to 88. Erdogan said the mayors “sent taxes distributed to municipalities to Qandil,” referring to the PKK leadership’s base in northern Iraq, and that new judicial actions would begin when the Turkish Parliament reopens on Oct. 1.
Erdogan told reporters on his plane, “They are not decisions that we will make emotionally. The judiciary will make these decisions."
In response to the allegations, the three dismissed mayors held press conferences in Istanbul on Thursday, first with foreign journalists and then the Turkish press, to refute the charges that led to their suspensions earlier this month. Dismissed Diyarbakir Mayor Selcuk Mizrakli, Mardin Mayor Ahmet Turk and Van Mayor Bedia Ozgokce Ertan fielded questions from reporters, saying the state’s actions were unconstitutional and that they would fight allegations of terror links in Turkish courts to recover their positions.
“This decision is completely political as today there’s a growing demand for change from the opposition, and the government’s basic aim is to create obstacles for us and benefits for themselves to protect their own interests,” Turk said during the press conference.
He added, “If the state were smart, it would try to win back the Kurds, try to reconcile with them. However, the state is acting too emotionally and too angrily” following a wave of losses by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the March municipal elections.
Ertan said the state official who took over her position in Van had dissolved the HDP-led municipal assembly in a move she called a political coup. Asked if there was a legal basis for such initiatives, Ertan said state-appointed governors were operating through a legal framework introduced under the state of emergency that was instated for two years following a July 2016 coup attempt and later inscribed into permanent Turkish law.
Under such measures, governors could suspend municipal assembly meetings and build new assemblies with handpicked councilors — an authority not extended to elected mayors. Ertan said replacing HDP officials with state-appointed governors was “legal right now, but not lawful because it violates the basic principles of democracy and it also violates the Turkish Constitution.”
Ertan said mayors could only be ousted following a legal ruling against them under the constitution. Yet through the legal procedures implemented during the state of emergency, an investigation under the anti-terror law is enough to dismiss municipal officials.
“Today, if any citizen goes to a prosecutor and files a complaint about any of our mayors and people take it seriously, that would be sufficient to oust a mayor,” Ertan told reporters.
She also said the HDP’s co-chair and co-mayor governing system, in which a male and female representative symbolically hold elected positions, was legal despite the Interior Ministry’s allegations that it breaks Turkish law.
The dismissed mayors fielded multiple questions regarding the HDP’s alleged links with the PKK. The Interior Ministry has claimed party officials attended funerals of alleged PKK members and they had held moments of silence in honor of deceased Kurdish militants. Seljuk dismissed the accusations, saying he had “no relations” with terrorists and that he worked for 30 years as a surgeon in Diyarbakir.
“If I cured any [PKK member], it should appear in documents with dates, such as when, what time, where and whom did I provide health services for,” Seljuk said. “And if I did that, it would have resulted in my dismissal from my occupation. Why would they wait such a long time to come up with those accusations?”
Turk rejected allegations that the Mardin municipality under his leadership had dismissed three civil servants because they were family members of deceased Turkish soldiers. Holding documents he said showed unlawful and wasteful spending of public funds by Mardin’s state-appointed trustee in 2018, Turk said he was dismissed for trying to reveal the AKP’s corrupt governing practices in the southeast.
“I have these documents; I have the proof that this money was wasted. However, I’m facing allegations of terrorism when I talk about irregularities in the municipality,” Turk told reporters.
He added, “Since the state has all the power, it’s trying to manipulate the facts and trying to show them differently. … I think they wanted to appoint trustees on April 1, but because of what happened with the Istanbul election, the whole process got delayed.”
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly