Turkey removes Kurdish mayors over alleged PKK ties

Three mayors in Kurdish cities were removed from office Monday due to alleged Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ties.

The Turkish Ministry of the Interior announced that the elected mayors of the three largest Kurdish cities in southeast Turkey, Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin, are being removed under the auspices of using their positions to support the PKK. They have been replaced by government-appointed officials.

“Mayors who are in contact with terrorist organizations and there is evidence they support terrorist organizations have been removed from office,” the ministry said in a statement.

The three mayors were elected in the most recent local elections held on March 31. They were from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In that election, Diyarbakır Mayor Adnan Mızraklı received 63 percent of the vote, Mardin Mayor Ahmet Turk received 56 percent, and Van Mayor Bedia Özgökçe received 54 percent. Other HDP politicians were arrested as well on Monday.

The HDP condemned the removals and arrests.

Per the new changes, the mayoral responsibilities for Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van will be assumed by Diyarbakır Governor Hasan Basri Güzeloğlu, Mardin Governor Mustafa Yaman and Van Governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez, respectively.

“(PKK) has used the powers of some mayors to gain its illegal objectives,” the Ministry of the Interior said of the mayors.

A total of 418 people were arrested in the roundup, according to both the ministry and the HDP.

An Istanbul MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) came to the HDP’s defense.

“A coup is not only carried out by tanks, bombs and rifles,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu on Twitter. “The removal of the elected mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van metropolises…is a violation of law and it is also a blow to the political choices of people.”

Van Governor Bilmez told the Turkish news agency DHA that he is prepared to lead the city.

“We will establish a transparent governance to offer best possible services to our nation,” he said.

Bilmez also said that the deposed Van mayor had removed a portrait of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, from the mayor’s office.

“We are now putting it back,” he said.

This is the second time that HDP mayors of Kurdish cities have experienced a state crackdown over alleged terror links. In the wake of the failed military coup in 2016, HDP mayors were sacked from their posts and replaced by mayors from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).