The co-mayors of a district in a predominantly Kurdish province in eastern Turkey who had been removed from office earlier this year have been reinstated, a first among dozens of Kurdish mayors who were democratically elected but ousted on terrorism-related charges, the Serbestiyet news website reported.
Müşerref Geçer and Emrah Kılıç, the co-mayors of Patnos in Ağrı province from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), renamed the Peoples’ Equality and Democratic Party (HEDEP), were arrested in June as part of an investigation in which they faced charges of bid rigging. Following their arrest, the mayors were removed from office by the Interior Ministry.
The co-mayors were released from pretrial detention in September and were allowed to return to their posts on Wednesday.
They held a news conference at the municipal building upon their return during which they talked about their “unjust” prosecution.
Kılıç said the tender in question was held in 2019 following their election for the production of asphalt to help the municipality pay off its debts and that there were no irregularities in it. He said the contract was subsequently terminated when the successful bidder failed to abide by its obligations.
Kılıç said it was thought-provoking for the prosecutors to wait to take action on a tender that was held five years ago.
The mayor said their prosecution lacked legal grounds, was politically motivated and aimed at defaming them.
The HDP won eight provincial municipalities and 60 district and town municipalities in the local elections of 2019.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has removed from office dozens of co-mayors from the HDP and appointed trustees since 2019, according to a report from the HDP. Some of the mayors were arrested, stood trial on terror-related charges and given lengthy jail sentences.
Patnos was one of only six municipalities whose mayors were not ousted from office immediately after the 2019 local elections.
The AKP’s move to replace Kurdish mayors came after it suffered a significant blow in the local elections of 2019 by losing the mayoralties of three major cities — İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir — to opposition candidates.
The HDP stands accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), although the party strongly denies any ties. The PKK has waged a war against the Turkish state since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to close down the HDP since March 2021 over its alleged ties to outlawed Kurdish militants.