Third Australian council shows solidarity with removed Kurdish co-mayors in Turkey

Sue Bolton
Socialist Alliance's Moreland city councillor, Sue Bolton.

Socialist Alliance Moreland city councillor Sue Bolton initiated a solidarity motion in support of Kurdish mayors who have been undemocratically removed from office by the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regime in Turkey. The motion was passed on February 10, with one vote against and two abstentions.

Similar motions have been passed by the Inner West Council (IWC) in Sydney and Fremantle City Council in Western Australia.

The IWC motion has been forwarded to Local Government NSW, but has yet to be put to the vote. A similar motion put to Randwick Council last year narrowly failed to get a majority.

Since 2019, the Erdogan regime has prevented 90 Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors and deputy mayors from taking up their positions or forcibly removed them from office and replaced with government appointees. Of these, 46 remain in jail.

The arrests are part of the regime’s long-running campaign of intimidation and suppression of the HDP.

Since 2015, about 16,000 HDP representatives have been detained at one point or another. More than 5000 HDP officials, including parliamentarians and mayors, have been imprisoned.

On September 26, 82 HDP MPs, mayors and prominent leaders were issued with arrest warrants for participating in public activities, in 2014, showing solidarity with the residents of Kobane, northern Syria, who were resisting the Islamic State terrorists’ assault.

In 2016, the Turkish parliament stripped almost a quarter of its members of immunity from prosecution, including 101 deputies from the pro-Kurdish HDP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

The same year, more than 160,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants were suspended or dismissed. At least 77,000 have been formally arrested and 130 media organisations, including 16 television broadcasters and 45 newspapers, were forcibly closed. One hundred and sixty journalists are still in prison.

As of February 15, another 718 members of the HDP were arrested in the .

The Moreland City Council decided to: “Express its solidarity with democratically elected mayors and councillors across Turkey who have been unjustly prevented from taking up their positions or have been forcibly removed from office,” and “Directly communicate its concern to both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Turkish Ambassador to Australia”.

Right-wing Turkish nationalist group, the Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance (ATAA), which has links with the Turkish Consulate, wrote to all councillors urging them to vote against the motion on the grounds that it would “antagonise” the Turkish community.

“It will be seen as a disproportionate political influence of the local active Kurdish community there. It will cause negative impact on multicultural harmony,” the letter said.

“Moreland council is not the United Nations of Local Councils around the world,” it continued, adding that “it is out of the council's jurisdiction, depth and scope to take matters of international politics into its hands”.

Bolton countered that it is important to show solidarity with local councils facing repression anywhere in the world “Every country that gets away with using dictatorial means, like the Erdogan government has done, gives confidence to other anti-democratic forces,” she told Green Left.

Bolton said Erdogan’s attack on Kurdish people’s right to elect who they want is “in line with attacks like the United States under [President Donald] Trump, in Burma with the coup by the military and in Latin America where both Republican and Democrat politicians have often supported coups against elected governments, the most recent example being in Bolivia”.

She said ATAA, which was set up to “campaign against the recognition of the Armenian genocide in 2015”, sent letters to all the councillors and even paid for Facebook ads “to try and whip up opposition to this motion”.

The letter to councillors stated: “There is a sizeable Turkish community in your city, and many would ask serious questions about the motivations of their councillors debating a topic without appropriate in-depth understanding and knowledge of the unique regional and domestic dynamics Turkey.”

The ATAA campaign failed miserably. Bolton said she received just two emails opposing the motion.

Bolton had discussions with Labor and Greens councillors, impressing upon them the extreme right-wing character of the ATAA and why the council should stand up for democratic rights everywhere.

“The [ATAA] are like right-wing Trumpites, with Turkish characteristics,” Bolton said. “Moreland City Council stood up for the right of people’s votes to be recognised.”