The new zoning plan for the Dara ancient settlement in Turkey’s southeastern Mardin (Mêrdîn) province will allow hotels and housing to be built immediately next to the Roman ruins dating back to the 6th century, causing irreparable damage, Mezopotamya Agency reported on Thursday.
The plan was approved by a proxy who was appointed by the Turkish government to replace the province’s elected mayor, and by city council members who replaced elected councillors who were dismissed from their posts shortly after the elections. The elected officials had run as Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members, Turkey’s second largest opposition bloc which is accused of terrorism ties. The change happened in July, upon an appeal by the land owner, but was not made public until recently.
Government appointed proxies have caused environmental problems in other Kurdish-majority provinces as well, with the majority of endemic species going extinct in the Van Lake area near Turkey’s Iranian border due to changes to water reservoirs after a security dam was constructed in the area, environmental activist Ahmet Kalçık told news website Bianet.
In September, another government appointed proxy in Diyarbakır (Amed) put a whole neighbourhood on sale, Rudaw reported. The residents objected to the sale, saying they were not given any opportunity to purchase the land their homes stood on themselves.
The ancient settlement of Hasankeyf, dating back to 1800 BC, was flooded in 2020 after the Ilısu Dam was completed in 2018. The flooding was greenlit by a government appointed proxy to the southeastern Kurdish-majority Batman province, who replaced the elected HDP mayor. Activists and preservationists for Hasankeyf maintain the proxy appointment was done to accelerate the dam project.
Proxies appointed to replace mayors in Kurdish-majority cities and towns turn them into “bases to attack Kurdish culture”, said Rojda Nazlıer, the HDP mayor of Diyarbakır’s Kocaköy district who was removed from office over terrorism charges in 2020.
The proxy who replaced Nazlıer “attacked advances for women”, shutting down municipal services for women and cultural spaces. “They seek to destroy all elements of Kurdish culture and language,” she told Mezopotamya.
There have been no official proxies appointed to replace religious figures for minorities, however, Turkey’s Alevi community believe President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s move to establish an Alevi-Bektaşi Culture and Cemevi Directorate was done in a similar vein.
HDP MP Ali Kenanoğlu on Friday said the directorate “aims to control Alevis”, whose places of worship, called cemevis, have lacked recognition as such while other majority and minority religions have enjoyed better protections.
Kenanoğlu said Alevi organisations that represent 97 percent of the community were against the directorate. Ahead of the establishment, Alevi community leader Rukiye Kara had called the directorate a “proxy” brought to further assimilate Alevis.
As of August 2022, HDP has lost all but six of the 65 municipalities it won in the 2019 elections. Seven of the mayors elected then are currently behind bars, while another eight remain under house arrest. A total of 19 mayors have been convicted of terrorism charges.
Most of the proxies are province and district governors, who are chosen by the central government and not elected, and thus their appointment “violates the spirit of local democracy”, the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local Governments said in an advisory draft in March.