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Kurdish mayors take office pledging to undo legacy of trustees

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Mayors who were elected from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) in the local polls on March 31 are taking office with a pledge to undo the legacy of government-appointed trustees who replaced the democratically elected Kurdish mayors in the 2019 and previous elections.

The new mayors take office amid fears of a fresh wave of trustee appointments by the government to replace them, but they are hopeful of remaining in their posts this time due to their huge public support.

The DEM Party’s predecessor, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), won 65 municipalities in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions in the local elections on March 31, 2019, but due to the decisions of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) in six cases and the Interior Ministry, nearly 50 mayors have been removed from office or not allowed to assume office.

Some Kurdish-run municipal officials had been replaced by trustees earlier in 2016.

The Turkish government claimed the appointment of trustees was a counterterrorism measure and that the elected mayors were funneling municipal funds to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

The mayors denied the accusations and described them as politically motivated.

The trustees, who occupied the mayors’ posts for years, have faced accusations of poorly managing the cities, spending the municipal money lavishly, wasting municipal resources and being indifferent to the locals and their problems.

In the southeastern province of Mardin, DEM Party candidates Ahmet Türk, a veteran Kurdish politician, and Devrim Demir, won Sunday’s election, garnering 57 percent of the vote and taking over the province’s governance from the trustee appointed by the government eight years ago.

The co-mayors were accompanied by enthusiastic Mardin residents on Friday as they officially assumed office.

Both mayors promised that they would transparently govern the city along with its people and and would work to protect the city’s multicultural and multilingual structure.

Mardin is a linguistically, ethnically and religiously diverse province with its Arab, Assyrian and Kurdish population along with other ethnic groups such as Armenians, Chechens and Turks.

Trustees have been accused of disregarding the religious and cultural diversity in Turkey’s east and southeastern provinces such as changing road signs in Kurdish to Turkish, disregarding the more widespread use of Kurdish in those cities.

Türk also lamented the wasting of the municipality’s resources in past years when the city was governed by a trustee and awarding municipal tenders to companies close to the government.

Mardin Govenor Mustafa Yaman, a trustee, was first appointed to Mardin in June 2016 and was reappointed in August 2019. Although Türk, who was an HDP candidate in the March 2019 local elections and won with 56 percent of the vote, was removed from office on terrorism accusations.

Türk said in his speech that the AKP government wanted to take over the municipalities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast by voter manipulation but that the overwhelming public support for the DEM Party candidates prevented the party from accomplishing that.

The DEM Party won a dozen municipalities in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast despite the fact that the party raised allegations of voter fraud that benefited the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Türk also said his municipality would take legal action against people who turned a blind eye to the “theft and wasting of resources” at the municipality during the trustee’s time in office.

In the southern province of Mersin, DEM Party candidates Hoşyar Sarıyıldız and Nuriye Arslan, who were elected co-mayors of the Akdeniz district, began their jobs officially on Friday after accepting their certificates from the local election authority.

The Akdeniz Municipality was one of the HDP-run municipalities whose mayor was ousted by the government in 2016. In the local elections of 2019, an AKP candidate won the municipality. With the DEM Party candidates’ success in Sunday’s elections, the municipality returned to a pro-Kurdish party after an absence of eight years.

Sarıyıldız and Arslan, who spoke after taking office, promised to open the municipality’s door to every person living in the district regardless of their political preference or identity. They said they would manage the city democratically and constantly consult with locals when making decisions on the city’s problems.

The mayors then took drills and uninstalled the door of the mayor’s office in a symbolic gesture to make the municipality accessible to everyone.

In the Viranşehir district of Şanlıurfa in southeastern Turkey, newly elected DEM Party co-mayors Serhat Dicle İnan and Bedriye Yorgun ordered the removal of an X-ray machine at the entrance to the municipality and steel wire around the municipal building to make the area accessible to people.

Photo: Mezopotamya News Agency

A trustee was appointed to Viranşehir in 2016. In 2019, an AKP candidate won the election in the district.

İnan said he and Yorgun were determined the govern the district in close contact with its people and make the municipality a “home” for people.

The DEM Party on Sunday won back 37 of the 48 municipalities whose mayors were ousted by the government after the 2019 elections.

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