Four people have perished in Turkey’s Kurdish majority Batman (Êlih) province following severe flooding caused by intense rainfall on Sunday. Among the deceased is a nine-year-old girl, Birgül Güner, previously reported missing.
In cities affected by storms, heavy rain, and snowfall, the situation is worsening. The Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced that nine people have lost their lives in the recent floods and storms, and 11 others are reported missing.
Emergency teams, including the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), Provincial Special Administration, the fire department’s underwater search and rescue unit, and municipality teams supported by Gendarmerie Search and Rescue (JAK), conducted the search in Batman. Birgül Güner’s body was found close to her home.
The discovery marked the end of the search for the Güner siblings – Asenat (1) and İsrafil (5) were also killed in the floods, along with a relative, Lalihan Güner (54), while three others were rescued and hospitalised.
The recent Batman floods are indicative of a broader weather crisis in Turkey, marked by a cold wave and storms, leading to widespread disruptions. This weather event has affected life in many provinces, with the total of nine fatalities reported from across Turkey. In Batman, intense rainfall resulted in significant flooding, causing waterlogging, stranded vehicles, and damage to homes and businesses.
Other regions like Erzurum and Ardahan have experienced heavy snowfall, affecting transportation and daily life. Municipalities initiated snow-clearing efforts, and transportation in areas like Ardahan is under controlled access due to hazardous conditions. Local authorities continue to monitor and address the situation, emphasising safety measures for residents amidst the challenging weather conditions.
Shopkeepers in the Silvan (Farqîn) district of Diyarbakir (Amed) have taken measures to mitigate flood damage, covering the fronts of shops with soil. The local business community expressed frustration over the absence of effective preventive measures from authorities, as the community faces this challenge annually.
The weather crisis in Turkey is compounded by a governance crisis, particularly in Kurdish-majority regions. The Turkish government’s practice of replacing democratically elected municipal officials with appointed trustees (kayyıms) in areas with significant Kurdish populations has led to weakened prevention and response efforts, leaving entire districts and provinces vulnerable to disasters. This was also evidenced in March, when heavy rainfall caused severe flooding in Şanlıurfa (Riha), Adıyaman (Semsûr), Malatya (Meletî), Mardin (Mêrdîn) and Diyarbakır.
Sezai Temelli, a representative of the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP), formerly known as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has recently criticised the practice of replacing locally elected officials with government appointed trustees, emphasising that the trustees impede effective local governance.
In August 2019, Kurdish-majority regions of Turkey saw a significant wave of trustee appointments. The mayors of Diyarbakır (Amed), Mardin (Mêrdîn), and Van (Wan) Metropolitan Municipalities were dismissed by the Interior Ministry, and trustees appointed in their place. These mayors, Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı of Diyarbakır, Ahmet Türk of Mardin, and Bedia Özgökçe Ertan of Van, were elected with substantial majorities in the 2019 local elections, indicating a strong popular mandate. However, their removal was justified by ongoing investigations against them, a move that drew widespread criticism for bypassing the electoral will of the people.
The trustee appointments have led to protests and arrests in various cities, and the measures were criticised extensively by several national and international rights groups, who highlighted the disconnect between the electoral victories of the dismissed mayors and the Turkish government’s actions.
By March 2020, trustees had been appointed to three metropolitan, two provincial, 29 district, and three town municipalities previously governed by HEDEP. This trend continued with further appointments to various municipalities across Turkey.