Human rights organisations, solidarity groups and the European Union have condemned the Turkish government’s removal of three democratically elected HDP (Peoples Democratic Party) mayors on August 19 and the arrests of more than 450 municipal officers and staff.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has been escalating its attacks on the HDP since local elections were held on March 31, using spurious allegations that elected HDP mayors had links to the outlawed PKK (Kurdish Workers Party).
In June 2015, when the HDP became the first pro-Kurdish political party to pass Turkey’s 10% electoral threshold, Erdogan’s regime responded by launching a major crackdown on the party.
HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaș and former co-leader Figen Yüksekdağ, along with 10 HDP members of parliament were arrested in November 2016 on trumped up charges of “spreading terrorist propaganda”.
Demirtaș and Yüksekdağ are still in prison awaiting trial.
The HDP responded to the latest attacks on August 19: “Our Municipal Co-chairs, who were elected with 63% of the vote in Diyarbakır, 56% of the vote in Mardin and 53% of the vote in Van, have been removed from duty with an Interior Ministry order based on lies.”
HDP co-chair Sezai Temelli on August 20 called for widespread mobilisation against the attacks : “Raise your voice everywhere, bring life to a standstill. Ours is a struggle for law and justice.
“We are on the streets today as we were yesterday. We will surely sweep away these state-appointed trustees, these cowards and their regime!”
The Federation of Democratic Kurdistan Society Australia said on August 21: “Such action by governing body of AKP-MHP is a blow to democracy and the rule of law. In fact, it is another coup by the AKP-MHP government.
“It is political genocide against Kurdish peoples. The dismissal of mayors has one single goal; to crush the democratic forces and to complete the Kurdish genocide.”
The Federation said the removal of the Mayors “violates Turkey’s constitution and is an attempt by the government to take over municipalities they couldn’t win in elections”.
Socialist Alliance Moreland City Councillor Sue Bolton said on August 21: “Ever since the HDP won seats in parliament in 2015, despite very undemocratic electoral laws, the Turkish government has been attempting to destroy the HDP by jailing its parliamentarians and replacing Kurdish mayors with appointed administrators.
“This latest attack with the sacking of three Kurdish mayors is connected with Turkey’s preparations to invade the Kurdish areas of Northern Syria.
“I stand with the Kurds and call on the Turkish government to reinstate the sacked mayors, release all the political prisoners and cease any plans to invade northern Syria.
Human Rights Watch responded on August 20, demanding that the three mayors be allowed to resume their posts immediately.
Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williamson said: “President Erdogan’s government has effectively cancelled the results of the March local elections in the three main cities of the Kurdish south-east and east by removing voters’ chosen mayors, all valid candidates, and taking over these municipalities.”
“Smearing the mayors by alleging vague links with terrorism to deprive the Kurdish population of their chosen representatives endangers everyone in Turkey who is committed to democratic elections, human rights, and the rule of law.”
Maja Kocijancic, the European Union's Foreign Affairs and Security Policy spokesperson said: “The replacement of Selçuk Mızraklı, Bedia Özgökçe Ertan and Ahmet Türk by state governors is of serious concern as it puts the respect of the democratic outcomes of the 31 March elections into question.
“Dismissals and detentions of local politicians and appointment of trustees deprive voters of political representation at local level, and seriously risk damaging local democracy.
“While the Turkish government has a legitimate right to fight terrorism, it is also responsible for ensuring this is done in accordance with the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in its Constitution and Turkey’s international commitments and not for political reasons applying broad anti-terror or criminal legislation.”
The HDP labelled the actions of the AKP/MHP as “a new and clear political coup” and a “hostile move against the political will of the Kurdish people”.
“The Interior Ministry is acting as the enforcer of decisions and practices that usurp rights and freedoms, carry out provocations and leave not even a single grain of democracy behind.
“This government no longer has even a modicum of democratic legitimacy. To usurp the will of the people, and to extort what they could not gain at the elections, through state violence, force and trickery have become the practices of this AKP-MHP alliance.
“Against this government that usurps the will of the people and refuses to accept the ballot and the elections, we hereby issue our call for solidarity to all forces of democracy, to all our citizens who carry a conscience, to all oppositions parties in or outside Parliament, to all civilian society organisations, to unions and professional associations and to all democratic associations.
“It is an indisputable right, in both the constitutional sense, and in terms of universal law, to use all manners of legitimate and democratic methods of struggle against this government.
“We can win democracy only through the common and determined struggle of the forces of democracy.
“This is our call to everyone who voted at the 31 March and 23 June elections across Turkey for democracy, and against the AKP-MHP alliance.
“This is not only the problem of the HDP and the Kurdish people, but the common problem of all the peoples of Turkey and all forces of democracy.
“Do not remain silent — to remain silent is to give approval.”