Kurdish mayors' arrests impact services, narrows room for dialogue
As KCK trials increase in scope, local services are being impacted and the sense of disenfranchisement grows.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 28/06/12
The arrest and imprisonment of 32 elected Kurdish mayors is raising allegations that the ruling AK Party is targeting Kurdish officials to politically cripple the opposition BDP.
BDP parliamentarian Gultan Kisanak (centre) and Siirt Mayor Selim Sadak (right) arrive at a courthouse to observe the KCK trial in Diyarbakir on April 19th 2011. [Reuters]
Nearly 4,000 Kurds, including members of civil society groups, journalists, academics and many BDP members, have been arrested for membership in the Kurdistan Communities Union, or KCK, a political umbrella organisation with alleged links to the PKK.
Critics of the AK Party accuse the government of trying to damage the BDP's reputation by making it difficult for it to provide services in the southeast. But the imprisonments also narrow the room for dialogue between the BDP and AK Party, thwarting efforts to solve the Kurdish issue.
"I don't think that there is any doubt that these are political arrests," said Gareth Jenkins, an analyst in Istanbul and senior fellow for the Silk Road Studies Programme's Turkey Initiative. While some detainees are PKK activists, Jenkins said the vast majority are "simply Kurdish nationalists who are not controlled by the PKK or acting on its behalf."
Sirri Sakik, a BDP parliamentarian, claimed the AK Party "has declared all opposition an enemy."
"The message is clear: only the AKP members have a right to be elected in this country," he told SES Türkiye.
In Batman, three people who have held the mayorship -- Abdullah Akin, Huseyin Kalkan and Nejdet Atalay -- have been arrested this year, along with seven council members and one deputy mayor.
Veysel Colak, the adviser to Batman's most recent acting mayor, Serhat Temel, told SES Türkiye political repression and the arrest of several local officials have interrupted services.
"Every mayor wanted to start a number of projects. Nearly every project has been left half finished. This situation is also slowing down the completion of more advanced projects," he said.
Temel, who was previously arrested before being released, told SES Türkiye the citizens of Batman are aware of the injustices and never turned their back on the municipality. "Life goes on, so does the struggle," he said.
On June 7th in Van, authorities detained several district mayors, including Van Mayor Bekir Kaya, a BDP politician, who was involved in the relief and rebuilding efforts following last October's earthquake.
The interior ministry relieved Kaya of his duties four days after the arrest, before the expiration of his grace period to appeal.
Since the KCK arrests began nearly three years ago, the AK Party has claimed the arrests aren't political, but rather in accordance with the law.
Burhan Kayaturk, an AK Party parliamentarian from Van, told SES Turkiye that security forces had been following the mayor and other KCK suspects before the judge decided to issue an arrest warrant. "This wasn't an initiative of the government," he said.
Necdet Ipekyuz, a Diyarbakir-based board member of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, called the ministry's decision to arrest Van's mayor "an outstanding disgrace."
"The arrest of elected persons is a direct message to their voters that no matter who you elect, we can arrest and kick them out," he told SES Türkiye. "Politics and politicians must be free. … people are coming to believe that they can change the situation only with violence."
In the meantime, Kayaturk said the mayors' arrests will not damage the government's initiative to solve the Kurdish problem. "Our policy on this issue is clear and quite sincere. We don't make zigzags over the fate of our citizens, no matter if they are Kurds or Turks."
SES Türkiye correspondent Ethem Cagir contributed to this report from Batman.