Turkey removes pro-Kurdish mayors over HDP’s criticism of Syria offensive

The Turkish government has replaced three mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) a day after their arrest amid a crackdown on criticism of Ankara’s incursion into Syria.

Hakkari mayor Cihan Karaman,  Remziye Yaşar and Irfan Sarı, the co-mayors of the province’s Yuksekova district and Mardin’s Nusaybin district co-mayors Semire Nergiz and Ferhat Kut were arrested by a Turkish court on terror-related charges on Thursday.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry on Friday replaced Karaman with Hakkari governor Idris Akbiyik, Yasar and Sari with Yuksekova’s district governor Osman Dogramaci and Nergiz and Kut with Nusaybin’s district governor Mehmet Balikcilar.

The pro-Kurdish HDP which governs many cities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey typically appoints one male and one female co-mayor to promote gender equality.

The mayors who have been suspended from their offices were detained by Turkish police on Tuesday due to their alleged terror-related offenses carried out through their posts.

The police also detained four other HDP district mayors and council members in the majority-Kurdish province of Van in simultaneous raids.

In August the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ousted mayors of Van, Mardin, and Diyarbakır, three predominantly-Kurdish eastern provinces, also from HDP on terror charges and replaced them with state-appointed governors.

As part of a crackdown targeting dissidents following the Turkish government’s incursion into Kurdish-controlled parts of northeastern Syria, many protests in the country have been broken up with teargas and dozens have been arrested for criticizing the operation online.

Friday’s removals came after Turkey agreed with the United States on Thursday to halt its offensive targeting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia to allow their withdrawal from the region.

Ankara views YPG, a crucial ally to the US in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region, a terrorist organization because of its links to the outlawed Kurdish separatists in Turkey called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Turkish government also accuses the pro-Kurdish HDP of having links with the outlawed PKK and has increased the pressure on the country’s Kurdish political movement since a two-year-long ceasefire with the Kurdish separatists broke down in 2015.

HDP denies providing support for the PKK, which has launched an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.

The pro-Kurdish opposition has been describing the offensive launched by Ankara on October 9 as an invasion attempt and calling for the AKP government to end it, while most of Turkey’s opposition parties supported it.

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