The mayors of Turkey's Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin metropolitan municipalities were dismissed early Monday by the Interior Ministry over terrorism charges.
According to an official statement by the ministry, the mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van provinces — Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, Ahmet Türk and Bedia Özgökçe Ertan, respectively — have been suspended for supporting terrorism. The state-appointed governors of the provinces will temporarily replace suspended mayors as trustees.
Pursuant to Article 45 and Article 46 of municipality law, Diyarbakır Gov. Hasan Basri Güzeloğlu has been appointed as the acting metropolitan municipality mayor of Diyarbakır; Mardin Gov. Mustafa Yaman as the acting metropolitan municipality mayor of Mardin; and Van Gov. Mehmet Emin Bilmez as the acting metropolitan municipality mayor of Van.
The statement added that the mayors already had active cases against them in which they were accused of crimes such as establishing or spreading propaganda for a terror group or else just being a member.
All mayors are from the pro-PKK Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and were elected to their posts in the March 31 local elections. With the latest move, mayors linked to the HDP remain in control in cities in only 5 eastern provinces, namely Batman, Iğdır, Hakkari, Kars and Siirt.
Meanwhile, more than 400 people were detained in an ongoing operation against the PKK terrorist group and its umbrella organization the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) in 29 provinces.
Ahead of the March election, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had said 178 candidates were being investigated over alleged PKK links. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the time warned that HDP mayors could again be dismissed if they, like their predecessors, were deemed to have ties to militants.
Vice President Fuat Oktay supported Monday's move. "It has been detected through judicial and administrative investigations that the means of the municipalities were being used for the bloody terror group, and what is necessary was carried out. The will of the nation can never be abandoned to the custody of terror. Intervention against municipalities supporting terrorism is inevitable under our fight for democracy," Oktay said in a message on Twitter.
Fahrettin Altun, the Presidency's Communications Director, said the decision reflected Turkey's "zero tolerance policy" toward terrorism financing and other forms of support to terrorist groups.
Reiterating that the PKK was an internationally-designated terrorist organization, Altun said Turkey could not allow local governments "to assist PKK terrorists in any way, shape or form."
AK Party deputy group chairmen Mehmet Muş and Bülent Turan hailed the suspension of mayors, saying the move is in line with the law.
Devlet Bahçeli, the chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that partners with the AK Party in People's Alliance, called Soylu to congratulate him on the assignment of trustees, reiterating his support to the minister and the government in their actions in counter-terrorism efforts.
Önder Aksakal, chairman of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), also voiced support for the move, saying that the dismissals come as a result of "the state's responsibility to fulfill its essential duty against terror."
Aksakal said in a written statement that the dismissal of the three metropolitan mayors was the state's responsibility as the organic relations between the mayors and the PKK terrorist organization have been revealed through necessary investigations by the Interior Ministry.
"Legal reminders are necessary for those who forget their responsibilities and abuse their authority with instructions and suggestions received from others," Aksakal said, adding that the Turkish nation now clearly sees those who are against the country's unity and integrity and those who cooperate with such (traitors).
Meanwhile, the HDP executive board slammed the move, saying: "This is a new and clear political coup. It is a clear and hostile stance against the political will of the Kurdish people." The board said in a statement said the three mayors had been elected with between 53% to 63% of the vote in their cities in March and called for support from other political parties.
Veli Ağbaba, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), wrote on Twitter that the dismissals were tantamount to fascism and a blow against democracy, while Istanbul's CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu also slammed the move.
"It is impossible to associate the removal of Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin Mayors with democratic practices. The three mayors who are replaced by state-appointed trustees were elected by popular vote in the March 31 local elections. Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable," Imamoğlu wrote on Twitter. Imamoğlu himself was removed from office over election irregularities shortly after coming to power in the March election but won a re-run election in June.
Why the mayors were suspended?
The Interior Ministry later released a statement in three languages including Kurdish and English regarding the incident, saying: "Our Ministry suspended mayors, who were identified and proven to be engaged and affiliated with terrorist organizations and to support them, from their duties pursuant to the Article 127 of the Constitution and the Article 47 of the Municipality Law No. 5393. In substitution for them, acting mayors were appointed in accordance with the Article 45 of the Municipality Law".
"As a result of the heavy struggle of all units of the State in this process, the participation to the terrorist organizations have fallen to the lowest level of the last 30 years and the number of terrorists in our territories has declined from the figures of 1,800-2,000 to some 600," it said.
"The resources of municipalities in many provinces/districts in the eastern and southeastern region have been canalized for local services instead of financing the terrorist organization while our provinces, intended to be turned into a chaotic structure through the trenches and barricades erected by the terrorist organization and its supporters have been introduced with the genuine municipalism highlighting the peace and service. Thanks to this, public resources have been secured and the level of peace and prosperity of our citizens have enhanced by means of mobilizing the resources into municipal services," the ministry noted.
"Having lost the use of the municipalities after the appointments of new mayors, the separatist terrorist organization and its political extensions regarded the elections of local authorities on March 31, 2019 as an opportunity to resolve the challenges of recruiting militants, ensuring pecuniary resources and motivating its alignments. The terrorist organization exerted widespread efforts to nominate candidates who would be easily led once they were elected and under its guidance and orientation," it added.
"Therefore, people – in particular Mardin Mayor Ahmet Türk, who is now in custody but on trial without arrest due to health problems – have been indicted and prosecuted due to offenses of forming or commanding an armed terrorist organization, becoming a member of an armed terrorist organization, making propaganda for the terrorist organization, praising an offense and offender were deliberately and willfully nominated as mayor candidate in some municipalities," it said.
Accusations against the three include attending funerals of PKK rebels, changing street or park names to those of known militants and singing the group's anthem, according to the Interior Ministry statement. The ministry also listed a series of charges or ongoing trials against the three mayors.
In this regard, Mızraklı has been indicted and is being prosecuted in eight separate investigations for "forming or commanding an armed terrorist organization," "becoming a member of an armed terrorist organization," "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" and "praising an offense and/or offender."
Türk has been indicted by two separate prosecutors and is being prosecuted in four separate investigations for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization," "becoming a member of an armed terrorist organization and deliberately and willfully aiding a terrorist organization," and "becoming a member of an armed terrorist organization, misuse of public duty, and forming and commanding a terrorist organization."
Ertan has been indicted and is being prosecuted in six separate investigations for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization," "praising an offense and/or offender," "making propaganda for a terrorist organization," and "becoming a member of an armed terrorist organization and making propaganda for a terrorist organization."
- Co-mayor practice lacks legal ground
Once the metropolitan mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces took office, it was highlighted that they established so-called "co-mayors" upon the instructions of the leaders of the separatist terrorist organization, a practice that does not have legal ground within the legislation of the municipality. Also, the mayor-in-office shared his/her power with those vested with the capacity of co-mayor – ignoring that they were elected as the mayor with public votes – and authorized these co-mayors to illegally act as mayors de facto, as well as to convert the municipalities into an administrative structure separate from the whole country.
- Illegal recruitment to municipal offices
Mayors de facto employed former municipal employees who had been removed from their offices due to their engagement, affiliation and relations with the PKK in various positions in these municipalities, even though they didn't have the legal capacity and strove to reconvert the municipalities into centers that engaged with and were affiliated with the PKK.
They allowed individuals not actually working for the municipality to be involved in municipal actions, ranging from municipal investments and personnel recruitment to settling the agendas of the municipal council and committee; besides, they permitted individuals elected as members of the municipal council from HDP to be listed in the 2019 elections despite certificates of election not being issued because they had been dismissed from public service.
- Offering employment opportunities to the kinsmen of PKK terrorists
Since participation in the terrorist organization has diminished recently, members have sought to offer employment opportunities to the kinsmen of PKK terrorists neutralized in anti-terror operations and provide financial support to their families. They practiced mobbing, tyranny and replaced the positions and/or discharged the relatives of martyrs for this reason.
- Attendance of funerals of terrorists
Instead of offering services to cover the needs of citizens, they attended funerals of terrorists who endangered the integrity of the state and who had martyred many soldiers, police officers, gendarmerie officers, village guards, teachers, other public servants and citizens, and visited the graves of these terrorists as well as publicly announced support for the terrorists.
- Changing titles of public places to PKK-linked names
Following the 2019 local elections, they started to change the names of streets, avenues and parks based on national spirit to names of imprisoned members of the terrorist organization.
- Participation in events organized by the PKK or its supporters
The mayors, standing at attention, observed a moment of silence for terrorists and sang the anthem of the terrorist organization.
HDP uses municipalities to support the PKK
The HDP has many times drawn fire for transferring taxpayers' money and funds to the PKK, a globally recognized terrorist group. HDP mayors and local officials have been found to misuse funds in support of the PKK terrorist group and provide jobs to PKK sympathizers. Its mayors have also been accused of undermining municipal services, allowing the PKK to dig ditches on the streets and launch attacks on police and soldiers when the terrorist group adopted an urban warfare strategy in July 2015 and ended a two-year reconciliation period. HDP municipalities and their staff were also found to be actively participating in terrorist attacks launched after July 2015.
As a result, Turkey removed the elected administrations of 93 municipalities in the region for their links to the PKK terrorist group and appointed trustees to these municipalities in 2016 in the aftermath of the coup attempt launched by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Mardin Mayor Türk was among the mayors who were replaced with trustees at the time while Van and Diyarbakır were among trustee-assigned municipalities.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU — has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. The PKK's death toll kept growing when the terrorist group adopted an urban warfare strategy in 2015 to carve out enclaves within Turkish territory while using the local population as human shields, using the experience obtained by their Syrian offshoot the People's Protection Units (YPG) during the civil war in Syria.
Municipalities run by the HDP helped the terrorists in various towns and cities dig trenches and erect barricades, which were manned by local sympathizers and youth. Mainly deployed in the southeastern Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Mardin provinces, this strategy led to the destruction of entire neighborhoods in clashes, with the most damage inflicted on Şırnak's city center and in the districts of Sur, Cizre and Nusaybin.
However, the strategy collapsed because of successful anti-terrorist operations and the lack of cooperation from the people in the region. The cities suffered significant damage during the operations. Since then, the government has invested huge amounts of money to recover infrastructure and public services in the region. Intense reconstruction efforts in the southeastern region were budgeted in the billions and include housing, health and education projects as well as restoration processes for historical buildings, mosques and churches and recreation work.
In the trustee-run municipalities, damaged infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater and sanitation has been repaired and new infrastructure has been built, in addition to tens of thousands of housing to rehabilitate neighborhoods. Extensive construction work was undertaken by the trustees to revive the PKK-ravaged southeastern provinces.
The Oct. 6-7 Kobani protests were another notable period involving the cooperation between the PKK and HDP. In 2014, as the northern Syrian border town of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, was under siege by Daesh, HDP officials called for a mass protest on Oct. 6, claiming the Turkish government's impartial stance on the siege.
Some 34 civilians and two police officers were killed, and 221 civilians and 139 police officers were wounded in clashes with pro-PKK protesters and the conservative Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR) followers in southeastern Turkey, in addition to clashes pro-PKK protesters and police in large cities in western Turkey.
Hundreds of HDP members and around 40 of its mayors are currently under arrest face terrorism charges. The former co-chairman of the party, Selahattin Demirtaş, has been in prison since November 2016.
The Turkish military has recently increased its deployment near the Syrian border, including heavy weaponry, armored vehicles and tanks, as it prepares for an imminent offensive against the PKK terrorist group's Syrian branch YPG.
Turkey has long been delaying a possible operation east of the Euphrates to end the presence of U.S.-backed YPG terrorists, which Ankara says pose a grave security threat due to their affiliation with the PKK terrorist group. Months long talks between Turkey and the U.S. regarding a safe zone in northern Syria has failed to bear fruit. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said if the planned safe zone is not established and threats to Turkey continue an operation will be launched to oust the YPG from the region.