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Thousands attend rally in Hakkari protesting removal of Kurdish mayor

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A large rally was held on Thursday in the southeastern Turkish province of Hakkari in protest of the removal of the city’s democratically elected mayor and his subsequent conviction on terrorism charges, the Artı Gerçek news website reported.

The rally was organized by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) and the Democratic Regions Party (DBP). DEM Party Co-chairpersons Tülay Hatimoğulları and Tuncer Bakırhan were among the participants of the rally along with representatives from dozens of civil society organizations and rights groups.

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 handwritten note sent by Akış from prison was read out during Thursday’s rally in Hakkari in which he “respectfully [thanked] the people of Hakkari for their determined stance in standing up for their will.”

“We will continue to fight no matter the cost,” said the ousted mayor said in his note.

The participants of the rally chanted slogans and carried placards against the appointment of trustees. The motto of the demonstration was “Municipalities are ours, we will not allow their usurpation.”

Thursday’s rally was held at the end of a three-day “Democracy March” launched by a large group of people including DEM Party officials and locals in Hakkari on Monday.

Widespread protests have taken place in Hakkari and other parts of the country as well as in parliament by DEM Party lawmakers against the removal of the Hakkari mayor who had been elected with 48.9 percent of the vote in the March 31 election.

The DEM Party claims that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is taking “political revenge” by removing its mayor due to its election failure in the province.

Both the AKP and its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), accuse the DEM Party and its predecessors of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

The parties deny any links to the outlawed group.

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 PKK.

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

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