The appointment of trustees to municipalities are related to terrorism links, nothing else, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said yesterday regarding the recent replacement of some mayors in the country's eastern and southeastern provinces.
Speaking on live TV yesterday, Soylu noted that a mayor must have links to a terrorist group to be replaced since no other crime can be used as reason for such a move.
"For a trustee to be appointed to Istanbul, Ankara or any other province, he or she needs to have a connection or coherence with terrorism," Soylu said, adding that the term "trustee" is not exactly the correct word to explain the replacement process.
"Turkey has been using a mistaken term. The right term is temporarily appointed mayor. When you say trustee, it means that someone is being discharged from his or her position completely [and some other person is appointed to replace him]. We do not remove a mayor. We lay them off from their job with the jurisdiction that the laws and constitution provides us. As a measurement, we appoint a temporary acting mayor with, again, the jurisdiction that the law gives us," the minister said.
The PKK terrorist organization resumed its decades-old campaign in July 2015 after a three-year cease-fire collapsed. Since then, more than 1,200 people, including security personnel and civilians, have lost their lives in PKK attacks. During the process, some Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) municipalities directly or indirectly supported these violent terrorist activities. As a result, Turkey removed the elected administrations of 94 municipalities in the region for their links to the PKK terrorist group and appointed trustees to these municipalities in 2016. According to the ministry's statement last week, 41 of the former mayors have been given a total of 237 years, 237 months and 171 days of imprisonment by a court on charges of terrorism and crimes related to terrorism. The pro-PKK HDP mayors, who were from eastern and southeastern provinces and districts, were replaced by governors, deputy governors and district governors. Soylu noted that if someone has been supporting a terror group, aiding and abetting it, has a connection or coherence with it, the state will of course intervene in the issue. He added that the process has been twisted with claims that the government has similar plans for many other provinces.
The minister added that the fact that some mayors, being elected, does not mean that he or she is exempt from committing crimes. Soylu also showed some pictures that proved that the mayors who have been replaced by trustees had links with terrorist groups, giving the example of the southeastern Şırnak municipality, where it was revealed that there were 19 mortars.
"We have a constitution, we have laws, and we have to obey them. Our duty is to ensure that everyone is obeying them. I mean, our duty is to secure and preserve our citizens' rights on this issue if there are those who do not obey these laws," he said, adding that if the government did not act, it would have failed its duty. The new administrations' trustees have been welcomed by locals as they have brought new services and cut the money flow to the group. In trustee-run municipalities, damaged infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater and sanitation have been repaired and new infrastructure has been built.
Despite these discharges, the struggles of Turkey against mayors who support terrorist organizations continue and the country had to expel three other mayors last month due to similar charges. The mayors of Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin metropolitan municipalities were dismissed by the Interior Ministry over terrorism charges.
According to an official statement by the ministry, the mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van – Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, Ahmet Türk and Bedia Özgökçe Ertan, respectively – were suspended for supporting terrorism. State-appointed governors for the provinces will temporarily replace suspended mayors as trustees.
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 being a member. All mayors are from the 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 five eastern provinces, namely Batman, Iğdır, Hakkari, Kars and Siirt.
Soylu added that back in 2015, the PKK recruited 521 children under the age of 15 as terrorists and took them to the Qandil mountains where the terrorist group's headquarters are.
"They will take our children away and parliamentarians will sit down, doing nothing. Is this possible?" Soylu asked.
The minister also noted that the PKK is not the only terror group that the government is fighting against. Previously, trustees replaced seven mayors with charges related to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). "There were [ruling Justice and Development Party] AK Party and [Nationalist Movement Party] MHP municipalities among these trustee-appointed places as well," he explained.