Turkey’s Interior Ministry fired three elected mayors from the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and detained more than 400 people on terrorism charges on Monday.
The ministry removed the mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van for alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US. The PKK has been waging a bloody war in Turkey’s Southeast for more than three decades.
The three cities have a total population of about 3.7 million people, and the mayors assumed office following local elections held on March 31.
All three mayors were elected with a majority of votes in the March 31 election. Diyarbakır Mayor Adnan Selcuk Mızraklı garnered 63 percent of the vote, while Mardin Mayor Ahmet Türk had 56 percent and Van mayor Bedia Özgökçe Ertan received 54 percent.
The city’s governors were appointed acting mayors or trustees, with Diyarbakır Governor Hasan Basri Güzeloğlu replacing Mızraklı, Mardin Governor Mustafa Yaman replacing Türk and Van Governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez replacing Ertan.
Police teams conducted raids on the municipal buildings of the three cities in the early hours of Monday where they carried out extensive searches.
In its statement the ministry claimed that the mayors were using the resources of the municipalities for the benefit of the PKK and its umbrella organization, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned before the local elections that his government would not hesitate to replace mayors from the HDP if they were deemed to be linked to the PKK. The HDP has faced a harsh crackdown since it won enough votes to enter parliament in 2015. Since then, the government has jailed hundreds of Kurdish politicians and seized some 100 municipalities in the Southeast.
HDP Co-chairperson Sezai Temelli said in a statement that his party would not abandon the use of democratic means and would continue their fight for democracy.
“It is time to take the side of democracy and democratic politics. It is time to stand behind the will of the nation. Let’s stand side-by-side against this ignoble way of doing politics,” he said.
The clampdown plays well with the nationalists even as the government is facing accusations from critics of ignoring election results in which the HDP was swept back to power in municipalities across the Southeast. HDP supporters also helped Turkey’s main opposition party win mayoral races in İstanbul and Ankara, dealing a blow to Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu tweeted on Monday that removal of the three mayors cannot be explained within the principles of democracy.
“Neglecting the will of the people is unacceptable,” he said.
“All political parties and society should react to this coup against the will of the people,” Garo Paylan, an HDP lawmaker, said on Twitter. “If you remain silent, then the next in line could be Ankara and İstanbul.”
In the meantime, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli, an ally and election partner of Erdoğan, called Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Monday to congratulate him on the ministry’s decision to remove the three mayors, saying that his party fully supported the government in its fight against terrorism.