Once again, pages of Hurriyet newspaper featured the statements of pro-government columnist Abdulkadir Selvi. Selvi has briefly stated that after upcoming local elections more local administrators would be appointed to the municipalities won by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which maintains a stronghold the country’s Kurdish southeast.
The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has already removed from office more than 80 of the 103 .elected mayors representing the HDP and replaced them with government-appointed administrators, also known as ‘’kayyum.’’ as part of a crackdown on the HDP following the July 2016 coup attempt.Local elections are keystones of democracy, in fact, they are the heart of the matter. Taking part in the governing of the city one is living in means to determining its governance.
However, that most fundamental democratic right of Kurds has been taken away for two years running. Kurds have been forced into living with government-appointed administrators in the region since 2016. Let’s take a look at how that coexistence has worked out:
First of all, one should look at how these administrators arrived. They stepped in these cities and municipalities with soldiers, policemen, tanks and armored cars following July 2016. Municipalities were decorated with Turkish flags upon their arrival, on the one hand, while the elected mayors of many cities were taken out in handcuffs, on the other.
That image of huge Turkish flags hung down from the windows of Diyadin Municipality, a town in the eastern Turkish province of Ağrı, is still fresh in my mind, surely neither I nor any other Kurd can forget it in our lifetime.
Afterward, what did these administrators do? First, rendered municipal councils nonfunctional. Up until the present, not a single council meeting has been held in the municipalities ruled by the these appointed administrators. Public budgets belonging to the people of the region are now being spent according to the administrators’ will.
There is no mechanism to audit the expenditures of administrators. In parallel with disabling municipal councils; all municipal employees, from department heads to service workers have been fired.
Later on, the democratic gains of our decades-long struggle for multilingualism and multiculturalism were destroyed. The Administrators replaced multilingual signs with Turkish only. Amed (in Kurdish), accepted by Kurds as their capital city, became Diyarbakır (in Turkish), and Dersim (in Kurdish) went back to being Tunceli (in Turkish).
A total of 21 cultural centers in the region were shut down. The names of the parks and streets were changed and monuments were removed. From Orhan Doğan to Ehmedê Xanî, from Roboski to Tahir Elçi and Uğur Kaymaz; all monuments and statues which were of great value to Kurds depicting state-led massacres and Kurdish culture were dismantled.
A practical war was being waged over social symbols and values belonging to Kurdish people. Theatres, multilingual kindergartens, libraries, music schools… Everything devoted to sustaining Kurdish culture was shut down. Some of the traditional condolence houses – where the communities would gather to pay their condolonces for the dead – were shut down.
Another public space targetted by administrators was women’s centers. Following the appointment of administrators by the state, 43 women’s centres and two women’s shelters were closed. Administrators did away with the departments of women’s policy and violence against women helpline; they fired female bus drivers and strived to erase everything pertaining to women in the social sphere.
Efforts spent by Democratic Regions Party (DBP) – a social democratic Kurdish political party – for a multilingual and multicultural life were hindered. All signages in Armenian and Syriac were removed and open courses were closed.
Of course DBP municipalities had several problems as well, we were criticizing them at many points, yet as a matter of fact, DBP municipalities were on the course to create a more egalitarian society in every aspect. This progress has been inhibited by administrators.
I know that many people reading this piece will say ‘But administrators built roads, planted flowers in traffic islands and lots of streets renewed.’’ This may be right, but these are the municipalities’ tasks, after all.
Hence, amazing TUYAP Book Fair organized in Diyarbakır was supported by the municipality. But, none of these ‘good works’ can change the fact that those seats were occupied by force. If the state and its administrators trust themselves that much, they can stand as candidates from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in local elections.
Now, it’s obvious what the discourse of ‘administrators will be appointed again’ aims to get the message across to Kurdish people. It may be a message to imply ‘Don’t vote for DBP’s candidates for anything’ or ‘Don’t vote at all’. I frankly don’t know which one it is. Nevertheless, what the state and administrators don’t understand is this:
For Kurds, to ability elect their own representative is a matter of survival and a matter of official recognition of their own existence. Therefore, they will go to the polls and elect the mayor of their own city. Once upon a time, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said “I will not allow for those appointed to be dispose of those who have been elected.” However, up until now, he has allowed it. If he keeps allowing this to take place, this will go down in history as a shame for both himself and this country.