The fight will continue, we do not fear death or prison

The mayoral election of March 31, 2019, was critical both for Turkey’s national politics and for the political struggle waged by Kurdish people in the country. It was particularly important for taking a stance against the encroachments on rights in Turkey’s southeast, where the country’s Kurdish population is concentrated.

Before the elections, there were elected mayors, jailed co-mayors, and government-appointed administrators that replaced elected mayors. In the elections, Kurdish people made the choice to take back local governments in many cities under trusteeships, despite all pressures they faced. 

Although these government-appointed administrators were voted out of office in March, the government has once more removed elected mayors from the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) and replaced them. When I try to think of what good they could do for Turkey, I am at a loss. The reassignment of these administrators is in effect a political coup.

The government is declaring anyone who holds an opposing view enemy.

Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan invited the mayors of Turkey’s 30 metropolitan cities to a meeting, and announced that he was pleased to “be together with mayors that distanced themselves from terror”. His invitation perfectly encapsulated his approach to Kurdish people.

One has to wonder why such a meeting was not held before HDP metropolitan mayors were replaced by administrators. Let alone inviting us to special meetings, even our most basic attempts to meet with the government were ignored, and now they are trying to cover up their negligence by terrorising us. The lack of truth in their empty claims is obvious.

The real goal is undermining our party’s co-leadership system. This system, which was announced in 2014 and received strong support at the polls, requires both a man and a woman to hold leadership positions such as HDP co-president and municipal co-mayors. 

The co-leadership system is not one that we can give up if we want to institutionalize democracy. We began implementing co-presidency in practice in 2006, and it was legalized in 2013 through Erdoğan’s “democratisation package.”

We also have de facto co-mayorships, which we are still struggling to pass into law. We are determined to achieve this end, and will not back down.

Furthermore, Article 6 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, titled “Appropriate administrative structures and resources for the tasks of local authorities,” states that, “local authorities shall be able to determine their own internal administrative structures in order to adapt them to local needs and ensure effective management.”

We should not forget that 50 per cent of this society consists of women.

Article 10 of Turkey’s Constitution states that “women and men have equal rights. The government is responsible for ensuring this equality is actualised.” 

According to Article 127 of the Constitution, “Local administrative bodies are public corporate entities established to meet the common local needs of the inhabitants of provinces, municipal districts and villages, whose decision-making bodies are elected by the electorate as described in the law, and whose principles of structure are also determined by law.”

So, when the government replaced us with an administrator after we served for two years following our victory in the 2014 elections, what did they do?

It is important to pay attention to what happened here: widespread looting. In other words, exploiting the municipalities’ and people’s money.

From my time in office, my receipts are out in the open. The services we provided are clear. The gifts exchanged are known.

We served our people transparently. We documented our resources and our spending.

During the four months that I was co-mayor, tens of thousands of people came to visit us. People were still coming to congratulate us even when we were replaced.

I have never refrained from standing side by side with our people; I listened to them patiently, and they listened patiently, in turn, to me and our colleagues. We talked in length about how to make Mardin into the best the city can be. Whether in individual conversations or group meetings, we spoke honestly and sincerely about our experiences.

Mardin is a mosaic that is home to many different folks. There is no place here for the unitary politics being implemented in the country. This is why our people want us, not the ones who occupy the office.

When we reflect on our experiences, we see that there is no independent judiciary, and that an exploitative and despotic system is governing the country.

The one thing that can succeed against this system, no matter what, is resistance. If we do not stand up against this mindset, if we do not raise our voices, we will not succeed. Our demands for rights, law, and justice will be crushed under this unitary mindset.

As a result, our priority must be ensuring unity of the opposition and expanding HDP politics.

We must consider the reasoning behind the imprisonment of our co-presidents Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, as well as hundreds of other politicians I am not able to list here.

Our friends are in prison precisely because they have been fighting against this mindset. In spite of everything, they have not bowed down.

Standing with the people and fighting for their demands is a matter of conscience. This is why we have not backed down, nor will we. We have waged our struggle by insisting, “The HDP will never submit to your politics!”

As people who have dedicated years to this struggle, we are not going to fear death or prison. Our addressees must understand this message clearly. The people will not back down from their demands, and we will not back down from our resistance.

You cannot solve these problems by trampling people’s will and assigning administrators. There can be no excuse for disrespecting the will that emerged from the ballot boxes. If you shut down avenues of democracy and dialogue, you demonstrate that you do not want to find solutions.

What kind of politics could support the decade-long prison sentence given to Candan Kaftancıoğlu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head in Istanbul, over her Twitter posts? What kind of politics would claim that there is an independent judiciary? We do not doubt the sincerity of leftist groups that have stood with us. Kurdish people have always supported rights in Turkey. We have proven our strength in unity.

The punishment handed down to Kantancıoğlu is in fact punishment for standing with Kurdish people. It is an attempt to criminalise Kurdish peoples. We must find ways of expanding our struggle.

We must create a more democratic Turkey by strengthening our belief in solidarity and by defending our politics. There is no reason to trust the government claims that they will not assign administrators to Ankara or Istanbul.

The fundamental issue at hand is not government-appointed administrations, it is the political coups and the disregard for the law.

We believe the CHP can see this.

The path forward is clear: finding a solution through debate.

As I have said earlier, this will be ensured by taking democratic steps and opening a room for dialogue.

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

Ahmet Türk is a veteran Kurdish politician in southeastern Turkey who has been active in politics since 1973. In the 2014 local elections, Türk was elected mayor of Mardin, associated with the Democratic Regions Party (DBP). However, on Nov. 21 2016, he was detained on terror charges after being dismissed from office by Turkish authorities. He was released on Feb. 3, 2017. In the March 31local elections he was re-elected as mayor of Mardin. But in August he got dismissed again by the Interior Ministry due to accusations for supporting terrorism.