The Turkish government’s practice of appointing trustees to replace elected mayors of municipalities in Kurdish-majority areas is motivated by a deep crisis of governance within the ruling party, Pakize Sinemillioğlu, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Ankara Provincial Co-chair, said on Saturday.
As the next local elections approach in March 2024, Sinemillioğlu said the government was determined to continue the practice of appointing trustees in Kurdish-populated regions. According to the politician, who says that the trusteeship policy was created because of the unresolved Kurdish question, the political crisis that created the policy will continue as long as the Kurdish question is not resolved. According to them, the root of these social, economic and political crises in Turkey is the war policy.
The statement was made during a protest in Ankara on the anniversary of the start of the wave of trustee appointments, which followed the latest local elections in Turkey in 2019.
Unravelling local governance in HDP strongholds
The Turkish government has been appointing trustees to the pro-Kurdish HDP municipalities for two terms. Three months after the 2019 local elections, on 19 August, trustees were appointed to the HDP’s metropolitan municipalities of Diyarbakır (Amed), Van (Wan) and Mardin (Mêrdîn).
Since then, trustees have been appointed in 48 of the 65 municipalities won by the HDP.
Following the appointment of trustees in three metropolitan municipalities, the peaceful protests known as the ‘Democracy Vigil’, which lasted for 53 days, were also banned by a decision of the Governor’s Office.
As the councils of the municipalities with appointed trustees were also dissolved, the memberships of 1,139 elected council members, including 807 from the HDP, were also revoked.
According to the HDP, the will of the 4,356,000 voters who cast their ballots within the boundaries of the 48 municipalities has been disregarded.
Following the 31 March elections, 84 HDP co-mayors were also detained on various dates. A total of 39 co-mayors, 21 of them women, were sent to prison awaiting trial and 19 of them were eventually convicted and sentenced.
Instruction to “immediately dismiss” elected mayors
In the run-up to the May 2023 general election, then-Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said that the order to appoint trustees came directly from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Soylu said that after he became interior minister, Erdoğan told him that he was “disturbed by the HDP municipalities in the southeast” and instructed him to “immediately dismiss” the elected mayors. The minister added that the mayors were dismissed within two days of this instruction.