Weak fire response in southeast Turkey blamed on alleged mismanagement by government-appointed trustees

Photo: Rudaw

Concerns are mounting over the adequacy of emergency services due to alleged neglect and mismanagement by government-appointed trustees in the region, following a series of devastating fires that swept through several villages in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, the Mezopotamya news website reported.

Serra Bucak, the co-mayor of Diyarbakir who was elected in March and replaced a trustee mayor who was appointed by the government during the previous term, said, “The previous trustees have not made any substantial investments in our firefighting equipment or personnel.” She highlighted that the city’s fire department is severely under-equipped and understaffed, a legacy of years of neglect.

Since a 2016 coup attempt, numerous mayors have been removed from office by the Ministry of Interior.

Mehmet Rüştü Tiryaki, a party executive responsible for local administration at the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), said, “The government, which saw the coup as a divine blessing, used these decrees to remove approximately 100 of our mayors in 2016.”

Tiryaki emphasized the financial struggle of municipalities under trustee administration, noting that they are now burdened with insurmountable debt. He argued that these debts are being used as a tool to suppress the municipalities’ operations.

The Diyarbakir fire department, which currently operates with 298 personnel and 59 vehicles, is ill-prepared for the demands of the large metropolitan area it serves. “We are receiving an average of 80 fire calls per day, with the numbers surging as high as 284 calls on some days,” Bucak said, adding that the lack of investment during the trustees’ administration has left the department struggling to cope with frequent and widespread fires.

A deadly incident on June 20 involving a fire sparked by an electrical fault near the borders of Diyarbakir’s Çınar and Mardin’s Mazıdağı districts, resulted in the loss of 15 lives. Local authorities struggled to respond effectively, with help arriving significantly late despite residents’ urgent calls for aerial firefighting support.

It is common for the Turkish authorities to prosecute elected Kurdish mayors. Nine co-mayors from the DEM Party were recently banned from leaving Turkey without the issuance of court orders.

Following the 2019 municipal elections, numerous Kurdish mayors were ousted by the Interior Ministry and replaced by government-appointed trustees on allegations of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PKK has been waging an armed campaign against the Turkish state in the country’s southeast since 1984 and is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Kurdish politicians commonly face accusations of membership in or spreading propaganda on behalf of the PKK in their speeches and online commentary or attendance at events.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stepped up a crackdown on the Kurdish political movement following the failed coup in July 2016, arresting dozens of Kurdish politicians, removing democratically elected mayors and closing down Kurdish media outlets.

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 were removed from office or not allowed to assume office.

In the March local elections, the DEM Party won 10 provincial municipalities in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, including the region’s largest city of Diyarbakır.

The party won back 37 of the 48 municipalities whose mayors were ousted by the government after the 2019 elections.

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