Mayor of the eastern city of Kars Ayhan Bilgen was removed from office by the Ministry of Interior, and 17 politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including Bilgen, were arrested by an Ankara court on Friday.
The politicians were among 82 prominent members of the HDP who were detained on September 25, over their alleged role in protests in Kurdish majority cities against what is seen by many as the Turkish government’s tacit approval of the Kobane siege in 2014, when Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants laid a prolonged siege to a Kurdish town in northern Syria.
Ali Ürküt, a member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the public media watchdog, holding the post allocated to the HDP due to its seats in parliament, was also among the 17 arrested. The politicians are accused of membership in a terrorist organization.
HDP Co-chair Pervin Buldan said the operations were part of a “political vendetta.” The party’s other co-chair, Mithat Sancar, said the operations were against the forces of opposition in Turkey and the general demand for democracy.
In a move that was interpreted as an attempt to prevent a government takeover of the Kars Municipality, Bilgen had announced his resignation after he was detained. Yet, Şevin Alaca, the leading candidate to replace him, was also detained yesterday in Kars. Alaca was known as the co-mayor of the city, although that position doesn’t officially exist. All municipalities that were won by HDP candidates have female “co-mayors.”
According to Euronews, the HDP won 65 municipalities in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions in the local elections of March 31, 2019. These included municipalities in eight provinces including Kars. Following the removal of the mayor of Kars, the HDP no longer has any provincial municipalities left and now only has six smaller municipalities.
In six cases, the elected officials were not allowed to resume their duties due to the decisions of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board (YSK). In the other cases, the elected mayors were removed by the Ministry of Interior.
In an opinion published on June 19, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (CoE) found the YSK decisions to be inconsistent with international norms and standards and called for their reversal. Similarly, the commission also called for the repeal of the Ministry of Interior’s decisions to replace elected mayors with government officials because “[they] undermine the very nature of local self-government.”
The European Commission for Democracy through Law — generally referred to as the Venice Commission — is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. The role of the Venice Commission is to provide legal advice to member states in the areas of democratic institutions and fundamental rights, constitutional justice and ordinary justice, elections, referendums and political parties.