Two more elected HDP officials suspended in Turkey

An elected official hasn’t run Caldiran, a town of 67,000 people near Turkey’s border with Iran, since February 2017.

That’s when the former co-mayor, Faruk Demir, was detained by presidential decree and placed in pre-trial detention for 11 months on terror charges. A state-appointed trustee took over municipal functions in Caldiran as in nearly 100 other municipalities — most of which were run by officials affiliated with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)  — that were impacted during mass purges stemming from a 2016 coup attempt.

Demir was eventually released, though his trials continue. In the meantime, he prepared for the March 2019 municipal elections. This spring he ran for the town’s municipal assembly with the HDP co-mayor candidate Leyla Atsak. They won handily, but Atsak was denied the mayoral seat on the grounds she had been previously dismissed by presidential decree, despite being confirmed as a candidate by Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council before the vote.

As in six other municipalities following the March elections, the mayorship was given to the runner-up candidate, which in Caldiran was Sefik Ensari of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Demir maintained his position in the HDP-majority municipal assembly until Aug. 10, when he received a call informing him of his suspension.

“It was no surprise to me,” Demir told Al-Monitor. “I was expecting that they would do something unlawful and take this position from me.”

Demir was one of two elected HDP officials suspended from municipal duties over the weekend. Turkey’s Interior Ministry cited Demir’s ongoing trials as the basis for his suspension but did not respond to requests for interviews at the time of publication.

The move highlights ongoing pressure on Turkey’s minority rights-focused HDP, whose officials have for years been restricted or barred from participating in parliamentary and municipal politics. Nine of the party’s deputies, including former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, remain in prison despite condemnation from international governments and human rights advocates.

Turkish leaders with nationalist leanings have long claimed the HDP is a political front for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group that has waged war against the Turkish state since the 1980s. Following the collapse of state-sponsored peace talks in 2015 and with the ongoing threat of a Turkish military operation against a Kurdish militant enclave in northeast Syria, HDP officials continue to face allegations of terror links, limiting one of the primary legal avenues for Kurdish representation in the Turkish political sphere.

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