If we had let the AKP win Istanbul, they would not have taken over municipalities in eastern Turkey

This week, President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) removed the elected mayors of three major cities with significant Kurdish populations in eastern Turkey—Diyarbakır, Van, and Mardin—and replaced them with AKP trusteeships. In response, Pervin Buldan, co-president of the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) to which these mayors belonged, delivered a public statement.

Calling to the opposition in Turkey, particularly to the party leader of the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), Buldan said, “Turkey is undergoing a test of democracy. I am calling out to parties in parliament. What has happened to us could happen to you as well. Break your silence.” Expressing that the trusteeships were the AKP’s revenge for its loss of the municipality of Istanbul earlier this year, Buldan insisted, “Speak out. I am sure you have something to say. Today is the day.”

The CHP’s response to Buldan’s statement was unexpected. Following a 4.5 hour meeting of the central committee, the CHP decided that the party line should be that the trusteeships are a blow to democracy, but that the party would not participate in public demonstrations against the appointments.

The HDP, whose support made it possible for the CHP to win major municipalities in local elections earlier this year including Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, and Adana, find this policy to be insufficient. HDP members who spoke to Ahval said, “If we had supported the AKP in the cities that the CHP won, the AKP would have won they instead. In that event, the AKP would not have resorted to trusteeships.”

Speaking from a çiğköfte restaurant in the Küçükçekmece district of Istanbul, which had a high proportion of HDP votes, Neriman S. begins by saying that appointing a trusteeship is an antidemocratic act.

She insists that Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu was only able to win due to HDP support, but adds, “We haven’t seen even 1 per cent of that support returned. The CHP says ‘This is unacceptable’ and stands aside. For them to stand by like this shows that they accept the current situation.” When asked why the trustees were appointed she responds that the AKP is sending the message that “If you work with the CHP against us, then I will push the CHP aside and assign trusteeships to govern your provinces.”

Yusuf, who works at a börek restaurant in Sefaköy district, claims that the trusteeships appointments have exposed the true face of the CHP.

Yusuf explains that he did not vote for Imamoğlu because he does not trust CHP to help Kurdish people in Turkey. “They claimed they would open Kurdish language courses. They claimed everything would be better, but instead, trustees were appointed. Since the CHP doesn’t support them, Kurdish people go and vote for the AKP,” he complains. He says he has faith in neither the CHP nor the HDP.

Telling us he lives in Istanbul’s Gaziosmanpaşa district, Ali says that he is pleased with Imamoğlu’s moderate and youth-focused rhetoric.

Ali explains, “Imamoğlu makes a few points on trusteeships. For example, people claim that ‘The reason for assigning trustees is the elected municipalities’ connections to terrorism.’ Perhaps there really are ties to terrorism. But if so, how could they have gathered so much support? If they are ties to terrorism, why were they allowed to run in the first place? I think Imamoğlu’s main response was, ‘You cannot change election results.’ But you can. This is what the new system allows. The president has the authority to assign trusteeships. But I do not believe that a trustee will be appointed in Imamoğlu’s place, because Istanbul is too big and the public would react strongly.”

Selling çiğköfte at a restaurant in Yenibosna district, AKP voter Alişan finds the trusteeships to be normal.

Explaining that he is from the central Anatolian city of Malatya and has recently completed his graduate studies, Alişan supports the AKP’s decisions by saying, “These trusteeships are assigned in response to complaints from the public. No one assigns a trustee on a whim. They have always existed. In places with suspected corruption, trustees take over. There are good trustees and bad trustees, and you could end up with either. It is a matter of luck.”

Hasan Alkan is another HDP supporter that voted for the CHP in solidarity. He claims that the trusteeships do not only target Kurdish people. He says a one-man regime is in effect and that people who provide leadership to Kurdish people constantly become targets.

He furthers, “The government has resorted to these trusteeships since the Sheikh Said Rebellion in the early days of the republic. The trustees are not only an affront to Kurdish people, but to the entire population of 80 million… I think trustees will be appointed to Istanbul and other places as well, and the CHP won’t be able to do anything.”

Esenyurt district resident İlhan, who is originally from the eastern Anatolian city of Iğdır, says he voted for the CHP.

Expressing that the CHP has not protected Kurdish people, he explains, “Trustees were assigned because of our support for the CHP. Why? Because big cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, and Mersin were sources of capital for Erdoğan. When we helped the CHP win he lost those resources.”

İlhan criticizes the CHP’s silence in the face of trustees being assigned to govern Kurdish people: “Imamoğlu gave a strong response. I wish the CHP had similarly spoken out. What is being done to the HDP today is an indication of what is to come for the CHP. All parties must act now and stand up to these policies in parliament.”

Bedia Karakaş says that the trustees are evidence of poor governance in Turkey and adds, “First of all, this is a catastrophe as far as democracy is concerned. [The AKP] kept emphasizing the importance of the elections, they said that democracy is at the ballot box, and now they are not acting in line with this rhetoric. The municipalities that have been taken over were ones in which the HDP won landslide victories. They were not close races. These municipalities were run by trustees in the lead up to the elections, and in spite of that people went to the ballot boxes to make a stance. And still, they are violating the public’s will. The HDP should not be the only one saying this. Other parties need to speak up too. At this point, I have lost faith in elections.”

A resident of Ümraniye district, Tayfun Kitapçı, says that he is not convinced by accusations of aiding terrorists. He says that he is not an HDP voter, and in fact voted for the AKP:

“I do not agree with the appointment of trustees. The elected mayors were allowed to participate in the elections. Whichever party it is, whether the AKP, the CHP, or the HDP, if they are elected they are representatives of the people. They claim there was a collaboration with terrorists, but I do not think they are telling the truth. If it continues like this, there could be more trustee appointments in Ankara and Istanbul.”