The Turkish government has dismissed a trio of recently elected mayors of three key provinces in the mainly Kurdish southeast, Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van claiming that they have been involved in terrorist activities using their posts.
The Interior Ministry announced early on Monday that Diyarbakir Mayor Adnan Selcuk Mizrakli, Mardin Mayor Ahmet Turk and Van Mayor Bedia Ozgokce Ertan, all of whom were elected in March from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), were replaced with state-appointed governors temporarily taking over their posts.
The ministry listed in a statement a number of terrorism charges, including providing financial support to a terrorist organization, against the mayors as a pretext for their removal from the office.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey, had been taking advantage of these municipalities and their mayors for its “illegal purposes,” the statement said.
An armed militant group, the PKK, is regarded as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government, as well as the United States and the European Union.
BBC Turkish service reported that authorities in Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van cordoned off the municipal buildings and began searching the premises prior to the announcement of the dismissals.
Governors appointed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) government took over as police officers raided town halls.
Authorities indicated in the statement that nine investigations were focused on Mizrakli, six investigations on Turk and seven on Ertan, who won the mayoral race in their provinces by garnering 63, 56 and 54 percent of the votes along with their HDP co-mayors, respectively.
Comparing the dismissals to a coup that undermines confidence in Turkey’s democracy, Mizrakli told BBC that the will of the voters should have come before all other concerns.
“The situation in these three major provinces will have strong repercussions for elected officials at the parliamentary level. Democracy [in Turkey] has fallen further down,” he emphasized.
The ministry also informed that a total of 418 suspects in 29 provinces, including HDP members from Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van were detained as part of an operation against the outlawed PKK on Monday.
Ahead of the March 31 local polls, President Erdogan warned that any candidate affiliated with PKK would be dismissed from the office and replaced by trustees appointed by his AKP government.
Following the failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government removed 90 out of 103 HDP mayors including Turk, from their offices, replacing them with government-appointed officials.
Furthermore, Turkey’s election council decided shortly after the March vote that at least four HDP district mayors would be barred from office and awarded their posts to runner ups from the ruling AKP.
Critics interpreted that the government-backed move early on Monday morning came as a shot across the bow for mayors from Turkey’s main opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), including Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu.
After his narrow win on March 31 was annulled by Turkey’s election authority over AKP’s appeals, Imamoglu secured 54.21 percent of votes, marking a far wider victory in the June 24 Istanbul re-run.
His landmark victory in Istanbul dealt one of the biggest blows to Erdogan during his 16 years in power, promising a new beginning in the country’s largest city and business hub.
“AKP chose fascism over democracy again,” the CHP Deputy Group Chair Ozgur Ozel held forth in a tweet he posted on his official account on Monday.
Sezgin Tanrikulu, another CHP lawmaker defined the operation on Monday as an “unlawful coup targeting people’s political choices that were expressed by way of elections.”