Middle East

Turkey: After election gains, Kurds fear Erdogan’s reach

“We are very pleased that we won the local elections. Now the will of the people must finally be accepted. Only our own city administration can guide our destiny,” a young woman told DW.

Two older ladies with headscarves joined the conversation. “Why should a forced administration come in now?” they asked. “What do they want here? We will not accept that. May God protect the winners of the elections.”

But on the streets of Diyarbakir, the second-largest city in the southeastern Turkish region of Anatolia, people often ask what good a democratically legitimated mayor is, if the AKP government’s imposed administrators are sent from Ankara anyway?

In last weekend’s local elections, Diyarbakir clearly went to the pro-Kurdish HDP, with almost 63 percent. HDP representative Feleknas Uca says the numbers are historic.

“The result is the people’s response to annihilation, denial and heteronomy [by the Erdogan government, the Eds.],” Uca told DW.

Although the HDP lost some communities in the west of the country, it won the highly contested metropolitan regions of Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin. It was able to take back a total of 48 communities from the AKP.

Read more: Turkey’s state news agency goes silent during elections

Hangover mood in Diyarbakir

But the hope for genuine self-determination is not particularly great in the Kurdish cities. In 2016, the Turkish government dismissed the mayor of Diyarbarkir, Gultan Kisanak, sentenced her to 14 years imprisonment and sent an AKP administrator to the city; in 96 other Kurdish cities, mayors and municipal councils were replaced by administrators with AKP party members as well.

The Turkish government accuses the HDP mayors of cooperating with the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK; 40 mayors are still in custody today. Another decisive factor was that PKK militias occupied several cities in the summer of 2015 and declared them autonomous zones ― forcing the Turkish government to act.

Read more: Opposition claims victory in Ankara, Istanbul

Poor prospects for the future

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already indicated that the imposed administrators will continue their work.

“If support for terrorists continues, we will send administrators again,” he repeatedly threatened during election campaign rallies. Many HDP politicians complained during the campaign that the HDP and other opposition parties were also given very little radio and television broadcasting time.

“Our supporters are threatened,” complained HDP board member Sezai Temelli in the run-up to the local elections. “Police officers film the people who come to our rallies, register their names. We are exposed to pressure, violence and interference.”

Whether it’s the democratically-elected HDP mayor or an imposed administrator from Ankara, the underground capital of the Kurds needs an effective city administration. Few other Turkish metropolises are as badly affected by the economic crisis as Diyarbakir. And hardly any other Turkish city has to deal with more refugees who have fled to Turkey via the nearby border with Syria.

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