Following a series of expulsions and forced resignations by the Turkish government, tens of millions of Turkish citizens have seen their elected mayors removed from power only to be replaced with government-selected "custodians."
ANKARA, Turkey — Respect for the “national will” has been a hallmark motto of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ascent to Turkey’s highest post began more than two decades ago from the mayor’s office in Istanbul. Against the many challenges he faced from the secular establishment in the past, Erdogan’s resistance always upheld the notion of the national will. Today, however, he is a president accused of trampling down that national will in a campaign targeting elected mayors, which has stripped almost half of Turkey’s citizens of the local leaders they elected in 2014.
Since the botched coup in July 2016, the Interior Ministry has dismissed the mayors of 10 provincial centers and close to 100 districts in the Kurdish-majority southeast, including the region’s biggest city, Diyarbakir, replacing them with custodians of its own choice.
In September, Erdogan launched an extraordinary purge against mayors from his own Justice and Development Party (AKP). The mayors of six major urban centers, including Ankara and Istanbul, have resigned thus far at Erdogan’s behest.
The provinces that have lost their mayors are home to more than 30 million people, meaning that, on the local level, roughly 40% of Turkish citizens are no longer governed by the people they elected.
In some cases, officials have not even bothered to explain the reasons for the removals. Prominent Kurdish politician Sirri Sakik, who was dismissed as mayor of Agri in March, told Al-Monitor, “They can’t find a single instance of corruption against me. I don’t know why I was dismissed.” Many of Sakik’s Kurdish colleagues, however, have landed behind bars on terrorism-related charges, stemming mostly from remarks and speeches they made.
On the AKP front, the fog of obscurity is even thicker. When announcing their resignations, the mayors simply said they were following Erdogan’s instructions. The party felt no urge to enlighten its electorate about why the mayors had to go. On Nov. 1, Erdogan seemed to offer some hints. “Ultimately, we are responsible for the mayors’ deeds as well. … No mayor is exempt from accountability. We have come to hear myriad things about problems in some municipalities,” he said. “If relevant parties want to resolve the problems themselves, they will do what is required. Otherwise, the Interior Ministry’s inspectors might have to step in.”
For Seyit Torun, the deputy chair in charge of local administrations for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the president’s remarks suggest that he sees the ousters as an alternative to the prosecution of potential crimes, notably corruption. “Erdogan [actually acknowledged] that some mayors from his party acted outside the law and he forced them to resign instead of handing them over to justice,” Torun told Al-Monitor.