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Pro-Kurdish party launches ‘democracy march’ protesting removal of its mayor

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Members of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) launched a march in the southeastern city of Hakkari on Monday protesting the removal of the city’s democratically elected mayor and his conviction on terrorism-related charges, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

The interior ministry announced on June 3 the removal of former Hakkari co-mayor Mehmet Sıddık Akış of the DEM Party from office due to an ongoing investigation and a separate trial on terrorism-linked charges. He was subsequently replaced by Hakkari Governor Ali Çelik. The ministry’s move attracted widespread criticism and protests for being “anti-democratic” and “hijacking” the will of the Kurdish people.

Akış, the first mayor ousted from office since the March 31 local elections when the DEM Party won a dozen provincial municipalities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, was also handed down a prison sentence of 19 years, six months at the 61st hearing of his trial on June 5.

A large group of people including DEM Party officials and locals began the “Democracy March” in Hakkari’s Şemdinli district on Monday.

During their march, which was in its second day on Tuesday, the demonstrators are touring Hakkari’s districts and villages, chanting slogans against the appointment of a trustee and speaking with the locals.

The three-day march will end with a large rally in the city on Thursday. The motto of the demonstration will be “Municipalities are ours, we will not allow their usurpation.”

The march is being organized by the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), the Labor and Freedom Alliance, the Free Women’s Movement (TJA) and several civil society organizations in addition to the DEM Party.

DEM Party Diyarbakır lawmaker Serhat Eren, who was among the demonstrators continuing their march in Yüksekova on Tuesday, said the people of Hakkari are resisting the hijacking of their will for eight days and will continue to do so until their will is respected.

He said the usurpation of the will of the Hakkari people is an attack on the Kurdish language and culture and their right to engage in politics and be elected.

“This has to do with the functioning of democracy in Turkey, so all people should support this struggle. If fascism is defeated in Colemerg, it will be defeated everywhere,” said Eren, using the Kurdish name for Hakkari.

Turkey became acquainted with the removal of democratically elected Kurdish mayors from office on terrorism accusations after the local elections in 2016 and 2019, but there were hopes that the government would not resort to such a step this time, given the significant public support afforded DEM Party mayors in the country’s southeast in the local elections.

As a result, the removal of Akış came as a disappointment to many, leading to protests and calls on the government from various segments of society to end the controversial practice and respect the will of the Kurdish people.

In the appointment of trustees earlier, the Turkish government claimed the removal of the Kurdish mayors was a counterterrorism measure and that the elected mayors were funneling municipal funds to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

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

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