Three steps to fight way out of Turkey’s AKP-inflicted coup

On August 19 the Republic of Turkey woke to a coup.

The replacement of myself, Ahmet Türk and Bedia Özgökçe Ertan, elected mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), with government appointees was indeed a coup.

As a legal concept, government appointees, or “trustees”, were designed to address a lack of management at troubled companies by bringing in capable staff to restructure them. In light of that, what was done to our municipalities in Turkey’s southeast was nothing less than a coup.

One can look back at Turkey’s recent history to gain an understanding of the reasoning for this coup.

Back in 2014, a time when the peace process launched by Turkey’s ruling party and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its promise of real democracy was still alive, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a sister party of the HDP, won over 100 municipalities.

These municipalities followed an alternative approach to local government, embracing local areas with what can be called the “people’s approach”.

The gains made only increased after the election in June 7, 2015, when the HDP became the first pro-Kurdish party to pass Turkey’s electoral threshold and win seats in parliament. 

And it was at that point that those who had lost out on the local and national stage set out to reverse our gains. Abandoning the peace process that began in 2013, they chose instead to reignite the conflict.

In doing so, they developed policies to create a new enemy in the public eye.

They set their eyes on the Kurdish political movement’s local municipal gains by appointing what can essentially be labelled as colonial governors. The AKP removed 94 DBP mayors from municipalities it failed to win in the elections, jailing many of them.

Then it set its sights on the HDP’s co-chairs and deputies in parliament, arresting them, too.

All of this was done to obstruct the peace process.

This ushered in dark days for the country, and the repression has only increased with each passing year. Yet Kurds are patient, and they waited for their chance to vote again. All the while, watching their cities reduced to rubble in the state’s operation against militants, and seeing their municipalities plundered by government appointees.

Despite all this, they waited, knowing that better days would blossom from the March 31 local elections. 

The day came, the vote was held, and we won. Against all the repression, obstruction and bullying from the government, the ballot box brought us hope – we regained the majority of the municipalities that had been seized after the 2014 election.

I have remained tied to the honour of humankind as I am bound as a doctor by the Hippocratic oath. Despite all the obstructions, we entered a phase of rebuilding. We sought to work together with the people of Amed, the Kurdish name for Diyarbakır, and we placed special emphasis on the memory of the city. For these lands are tied to their roots, they do not forget.

This is why we called it, in Kurdish “Amed Bajarê Bîr û Evînê!” – Amed, the city of memory and passion. We set out to restore the memory that the government had tried to forcibly wipe from the city, and we worked with the people in areas from art and culture to the economy, from environmental regulations to the social fabric of the city. 

And we must have succeeded at our task, judging by their eagerness to stage a coup after just four months.

Our side won, we had success, and this made them scared. 

The replacement of our mayors with government appointees is a political, not a legal decision. It is a coup staged by those who have seen the revival of a culture and way of life they wanted to wipe out.

There are now rumours that 13 HDP district mayors in Diyarbakır will be the next to be replaced.

The Diyarbakır Governorate, which fuelled the rumours by requesting data on the mayors, says this is a routine procedure and that there is no plan to replace them with government appointees.

Yet there is no explanation of why the data request’s subject line refers to “suspensions”, nor of why the request has only been made for HDP mayors.

The document in question in itself shows just what a political topic this is. 

The law and justice have long since abandoned Turkey’s courtrooms. This was evident once again in the sentencing last week of Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s Istanbul provincial head.

They say the prison sentence of nearly 10 years is for tweets Kaftancıoğlu sent years ago, but in truth, it is for her call for stronger solidarity with the Kurdish people and other oppressed parts of Turkish society.

This government holds a grudge, a fury against the Kurdish people, against leftists, women, children and against nature. It is impossible to expect justice or law from such a mindset.

We have seen the terrible toll two years of rule by government appointees has taken, and we came back to repair that damage. None of our actions in the four months after the elections warranted the imposition of government appointees. 

They talk about how we supposedly changed the name of streets to create pro-Kurdish labels. Yet the laws set out by the state itself say that the authority to change street names lies with municipalities.

The Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality changed the names after a proposal successfully passed a vote at the municipal council. The governorate has not recognised that decision and it has been annulled.

After the annulment, the council did not reiterate its decision to change street names, nor did it contact the governorate on the subject. 

But the media has created the impression that the names were changed, anyway.

This is precisely the policy attributed to Nazi German propagandist Joseph Goebbels: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Thus, they accuse us of demolishing mosques. This is the government that vowed to build the largest mosque in Diyarbakır years ago. The project is still not complete. We ought to ask why. 

Those who have left the mosque construction half finished are now crying bloody murder about non-existent mosques they claim we demolished. 

In Diyarbakır, as in any developed city, schools, places of worship, green spaces and other necessities are taken into account when areas are zoned for development. 

Yet strangely enough, during two years under the government-appointed administration, while mosques were not built on the assigned areas, more green spaces were being zoned for the construction of new mosques.

The municipal council took the decision to reassign these areas for green spaces and to give the necessary support to construct new mosques in areas where they were needed.

The pro-government media immediately jumped on these decisions, publishing provocative reports stating that we had “demolished mosques”.

In fact, the metropolitan municipality had been busy cleaning nearly 100 mosques in time for the Eid al-Adha festival in August.

In a country where the opposition cannot provide hope, people focus instead on the lies of those pushed forth as “saviours”, as with Goebbels and his machine of lies. And people believe and come to obey the propaganda machine, accepting that the government appointed its own administrations for the reasons stated. 

In any case, there is no functioning justice system to demand evidence and determine the truth.

While justice has often been depicted as a blindfolded lady, now in Turkey its hands are bound, too, and it is being manipulated like a puppet. This is why the former HDP Diyarbakır co-mayor, Gültan Kışanak, and many others like her behind bars, unable to carry on with their duties. 

These developments I have explained are part of a larger picture of how and why our municipalities were seized – it is up to readers to put them together.

As for the future, the government is bound to seize more municipalities unless the protests within Turkey and abroad rise in scale.

It is not only the HDP that is under threat, but all opposition in Turkey.

The government now holds a threat over their heads like the Sword of Damocles.

Because we would not allow the country to be drawn into the pit of a one-man regime, they seized our municipalities, dealing a blow to the will of the people.
 
This is a fundamental point that should be understood.
When you see the people on the streets protesting against the government appointees, none of them are doing so to pursue positions of influence. We have stood against this blow to democracy at these protests, and we have suffered threats, beatings, and tear gas to do so without turning back.

The government appointed its own administrators two years ago, and what have they done, other than empty the municipal coffers?

The first task they went about was to remove elements of Kurdish language and culture from the municipality, to reverse gains made by women, and to try to raise a generation of obedient and unquestioning youth.

The ones who fired thousands of workers are now talking about rights and justice because we fired individuals who were found guilty of theft and other shameful crimes.

The government appointees achieved nothing except benefiting a handful of cronies. They came to municipalities with full coffers and left them billions of lira in debt. Now Diyarbakır, Mardin, Van and many other provinces and districts find themselves unable to serve their people.

This is purely down to theft and the coup dealt against local administrations. We can leave this to the people to decide – let the government appointees resign in Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van, and stand as independent candidates in by-elections.

It is my firm belief that my colleague Ahmet Türk, the dismissed Mayor of Mardin, would win more votes than all three combined.

A research company’s poll found that 81 percent of the people of Diyarbakır reject the government appointees; we received the support of 63 percent of the city in the March 31 vote.

So, it is not only those who voted for us who oppose this imposition by the government. People from the government’s own voter base agree with us.

The question of what we can do in response is always under discussion. We are not social engineers. It is together than we come to a decision about what policy to follow. Decisions do not come from a single mastermind, but through consultation.

We wish for an end to the conflict and the realisation that war will not resolve the problems facing us.

The way to call a halt to government appointees and to stop the rot, which is our priority, lies firstly in opposing the government’s policies of conflict.

Secondly, it is vital to restore parliament with its former powers. To establish a system of checks and balances and the separation of powers. For parliament to reassume its duties and responsibilities in these areas, and to ensure the balance of powers. Legislation, the executive and the judiciary must be independent. We are calling the parliament to take up its duties.

A new constitution can ensure integration in a shared homeland.
 
Third, social actors must step fearlessly step forward. Those who are accepted by society and whose words bear weight in Turkey must bear their share of the burden.
Besides this, absolutely everybody must do something to stop the oppression.

Standing silently in the face of oppression means being complicit in it, so we must raise our voices every way we can and make it clear we are not on their side.

For the thing they fear most is unity and togetherness. They are frightened of the people. We are the people, so it is up to us to stand together. We are this country’s future.

We are the ones calling for a stop to the rot.

So, for this country and its people, we must demand the end of coups and of government appointees.