Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has said trustees in municipalities in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey were appointed by his ministry upon instructions from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported, citing the Birgün daily.
Speaking at an event organized by an NGO in İstanbul, Soylu said, “Six years ago President Erdoğan told me that mayors in the eastern and southeastern [provinces] who support terrorism should be removed. He gave the order to remove them.”
Soylu’s remarks came after a statement from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and presidential candidate.
In a speech in the eastern province of Van, Kılıçdaroğlu promised to stop the practice of removing duly elected mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and replacing them with government-appointed trustees.
“I am aware of how democracy has been trampled underfoot. I am aware of how elected [mayors] have been removed. We will put an end to that … trustee practice,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
The Turkish government has removed 48 HDP co-mayors from office and appointed trustees in their place since 2019, according to a report from the HDP.
Speaking to journalists about the HDP report, party officials said 72 co-mayors had been arrested since the first trustee appointment in June 2019 and that 15 of them are currently behind bars.
The ousted mayors were elected in March 2019, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered a significant blow by losing the mayoralties of three major cities — İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir — to opposition candidates.
The HDP stands accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), although the party strongly denies any ties. The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
The government of President Erdoğan has been trying to close down the HDP since March 2021 over its alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdish militants.
The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting the government’s expanding crackdown on political freedoms and dissent.
In a controversial decision in January, Turkey’s top court deprived the HDP of a key source of funding heading into elections on the grounds that it has links to terrorism. The court then reversed its decision by a majority vote, and the party is due to receive 539 million lira ($29 million) in Treasury funding this year.