Dr Selçuk Mızraklı, the elected mayor of Diyarbakır (Amed) who was removed from office and arrested in 2019, believes Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has enacted a new form of colonialism through its practice of appointing governors as proxies to replace democratically elected mayors in Kurdish-majority provinces.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won 65 municipalities in the 31 March 2019 local elections. Three of them were metropolitan province municipalities, five were smaller provinces, 45 districts, and 12 towns. Many of HDP’s mayors won more than 60 percent of the vote in their constituencies.
Shortly after the election, in August, Mızraklı and mayors of major Kurdish cities Van and Mardin were removed from office, replaced with proxies, and arrested on terrorism charges.
Then-Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu claimed the arrested mayors, 84 of them in total together with their co-mayors, were transferring public funds to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This claim has not been proven.
During the critical elections on 14 May this year, Soylu said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had given the order for the mayors’ arrest.
“I was made Interior Minister, then our president called me and said he was disturbed by these HDP PKK municipalities,” Soylu said during a campaign rally. “He told me to remove them from office at once. Tayyip Erdoğan gave me more than I ever wanted. Two days later, we had an operation against them all at 8 in the morning, and I removed them all.”
After his election, Mızraklı had first focused on the corruption of the previous appointed proxy to the mayor’s office, including a gold plated bathroom that cost more than 1 million liras ($180,000 at the time).
Mızraklı was sentenced to 9 years 4 months and 15 days in prison over membership in a terrorist organisation, but the conviction was overturned by the Court of Cassation on the grounds of insufficient evidence and a violation of the politician’s right to defence. He has not been released from prison.
The following interview was conducted by Mezopotamya Agency reporters, via mail. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
You were elected mayor of Diyarbakır with 62 percent of the vote in the 31 March 2019 local elections, after the 2016 wave of proxy appointments by the AKP. What do you think about the proxy policies of the government, and how would you define the proxies themselves?
Replacing elected mayors with public servants appointed by the hegemonic government, what we call proxies, happen often under times of military coup, for example 27 May 1960 and 12 September 1980 in Turkey. But particularly in the Kurdish majority lands, we see this in the first quarter century of the Republic and then again in the last seven years: A special public administration regime, and proof that the will of the citizens deemed less than is not recognised.
In all systems with elections, all officials derive their legitimacy from election results – as does the current president. But this insistence on perpetuating an unlawful system for the last seven years shows us the building of a new special regime – a kind of neo-colonialism, I can say.
For this regime, material profit is not a priority. If that were the case, the methodology would be employed in many western Turkish metropolises, which have much more vast resources. Touristic centres such as Antalya and the megacity Istanbul, for instance, could generate hundreds of times more profit than our towns and cities.
The warning sign for this new regime was 15 years ago, when the mayor of the Sur district in Diyarbakır was replaced by an appointed proxy. The second was the way the Speaker of Parliament and other politicians treated the results of the 30 March 2014 local elections, when our party won 102 municipalities. In Iğdır, when we won they said we were “pushing at the Armenian border”. This was an acknowledgement that the municipalities we won had thwarted their policies of assimilation in Kurdish provinces.
They realised the importance of local government, and shifted their focus on municipalities. The proxies came when they then realised that they could not win back the provinces, towns and districts once they lost them to us. What we call the Collapse Plan started with the 2014 local election results.
The whole process was conducted by an ideology that is beyond parties – much utilised in Turkey. This is the only way the first round of proxy appointments makes sense. Those who speak of a fortified parliamentary democracy now did not even consider a fly weight democracy then. It became clear that they were “Muslim for themselves only”, so to speak, dreaming of democracy only for themselves.
The practice of proxies is the greatest attack by the regime, due to its impact on politics and local democracy. But it was not acknowledged enough, and not countered properly, I believe. There could have been daily, weekly actions of relentless democratic objection – not just memorials and awareness raising events one day a year.
When you were elected you witnessed the corruption and bad practices of the proxies first hand. In this second round of coups against municipalities, proxies remain on the news with similar stories. How have the municipalities transformed?
The proxy regime is governance despite the people’s will. It is also part of a special legal order. In this term, the pillaging of public assets and interventions on urban life have gone orders of magnitude beyond previous proxies’ time in office. Unfortunately, both our party and other civilian democratic institutions have failed to push the proxy regime enough to make waves. These proxies have turned municipalities into garrisons of central intervention on society, culture, identities, faiths and the values and memory of the people. Psycho-social, economic, political and ecological – many decisions have been enacted as part of this laboratory of public services against the public. In the face of just that, we increasingly depend on the democratic self-defence of the people to void these attacks, and it is increasingly vital to organise this.
How could one void the proxy practices of the government?
The days of 4 November 2016, when HDP co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş were arrested, and 19 August 2019, when HDP mayors in Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin were replaced with proxies, were coups against democratic politics and the will of the people. They constitute an intervention on politics, society and history. We have to analyse well what the government wanted to eliminate, weaken, devalue and corrupt with these attempts at designing the political landscape. We must know where to search for what we have lost, or we will lose again. We must uphold our institutions, our party and our future. We must appreciate our values and those who hold value, and we must be at least as capable, brave, resolute, resilient, prescient and organised as those who attack us. We must never stand alone, and we must increase our friends and allies with solidarity. The demand for democracy and all methods of democratic struggle are our fulcrum. We must find the organisation and solidarity to weaken the hold of our rivals on our psychology, society and politics.
If we had managed to neutralise 4 November, 19 August would not have happened. If we neutralised that, the elections on 14 May this year would not have ended up as they did, with the AKP and Erdoğan winning. These are lessons to be learned, let us remember that.
You have been behind bars for almost four years, away from your city. What is your message to your constituency?
We must work more, more sincerely, more efficiently, more effectively. We can win if we multiply and improve our organisation. We are a party born out of the people, and the people feeds us. As such, we must internalise democratic ways of relating to one another.
When Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was murdered, hundreds of thousands of people took to the street to cry out, “We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian”, both condemning the massacre and displaying solidarity of conscience, morality and human values.
The plight of the Akbelen forest in southwestern Turkey and that of Cudi’s forests in the southeast are the same. Similarly, we must make it so millions come together against the evil of the proxy regime and the usurpation of the will of the people.
When we vote, we don’t just declare our choice. Our vote is how we express our values, faith and ideology. A vote is not just political, it is also moral. It is a matter of dignity.
I believe that our party and our people will take steps that are responsible, strong and effective. Me and Selahattin here, send you our love, and our faith that we will prevail.