Ankara deepens crackdown on opposition politicians

Plainclothes police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest in Diyarbakir against the replacement of Kurdish mayors. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2019

Ankara deepens crackdown on opposition politicians

  • Mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces suspended over alleged ties to outlawed PKK

DIYARBAKIR: The Turkish government removed three mayors from office on Monday over alleged links to Kurdish militants as Ankara deepened its crackdown on the opposition.

The mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces in eastern Turkey — all members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) elected in March — were suspended over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

A simultaneous crackdown across 29 provinces saw hundreds arrested, in a sign that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has no intention of easing up on its hard line despite recent electoral setbacks.

Police intervened with water cannons as hundreds of people gathered outside Diyarbakir’s municipality to denounce the government’s actions.

The Interior Ministry said the suspended mayors had active cases against them for “spreading propaganda” or being a member of a terrorist organization, and would be replaced by the centrally  appointed governors of their provinces.

It accused them of attending funerals and visiting graves of “terrorists,” renaming streets and parks after imprisoned PKK members, and offering jobs to militants’ relatives.

The HDP denies ties to the PKK, which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for much of the past 35 years.

Diyarbakir Mayor Selcuk Mizrakli told reporters outside municipal headquarters that the move “disregards the will of the people.”

The government launched a crackdown on opposition politicians as well as the public sector, media and civil society following a failed coup in July 2016.

Although the coup was not directly linked to the Kurdish issue, the crackdown saw 95 of 102 pro-Kurdish mayors removed from their posts and replaced with central government appointees.

Many were allowed to stand again in the March elections, despite criminal cases against them.

Hundreds of HDP members and around 40 of its mayors are currently in detention.

The former head of the party, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in prison since November 2016 — a case that has been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights.

In April, Turkish election officials annulled results in five districts and towns after they were won by people who had been removed from their posts under the two-year state of emergency that followed the attempted coup.

HDP lawmaker Garo Paylan responded to Monday’s suspensions by calling on all parties and the public to oppose what he called a “vile coup.”

“Remaining silent will mean Ankara, Istanbul next,” he tweeted, referring to the fact that the ruling party lost control of Turkey’s two biggest cities in this year’s local elections.

Turkish police also carried out raids across 29 provinces on Monday, including Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, detaining 418 suspects over alleged PKK ties, the Interior Ministry said.

HDP co-leader Sezai Temelli told a press conference in Ankara that “none of our friends detained today are guilty of any crime.”

Turkey “cannot solve its democracy problem until the Kurdish issue was solved,” he added.

The sacked mayors — Mizrakli, Ahmet Turk and Bedia Ozgokce Ertanall — all won with large majorities in the March elections.

There was also criticism from the new Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was forced to rerun his own campaign this year after being controversially stripped of his initial victory.

“Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable,” Imamoglu wrote on Twitter.


Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

A Syrian woman carrying a child walks by, in the Washukanni Camp for the internally displaced, near the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, on February 17, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2020

Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

  • Middle East expert believes Ankara and Tehran are locked in an information war

ANKARA: Turkish and Iranian media outlets are battling as deeply rooted tensions have resurfaced. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency has published an opinion piece that critically discussed tensions with Iran over Syria. It said: “Turkey’s vision of regional development and integration is pitched against Iran’s regional strategy prioritising geopolitical wins.
“Ignoring Ankara’s concerns in the fight against terrorism during Operation Peace Spring, Tehran is now setting its Shiite militias in the field in motion against Turkey, who is actively endeavoring to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
The analysis piece, titled “Idlib front, Iran’s weakening foreign operation capacity,” was penned by Hadi Khodabandeh Loui, a researcher at the Iran Research Center in Ankara.
Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.
An editorial piece that was published in Iran’s hardline newspaper Entekhab compared Turkey’s military moves in Syria to Israel’s bombings of pro-Assad forces. The piece warned Ankara about a potential aggressive reaction from Tehran to both threats.
Israeli warplanes fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, in early February and they hit Syrian Army and Iran-backed militia positions, reportedly killing 23 people.
Being among the guarantor states of the Astana peace process for Syria, aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, Turkey and Iran have already witnessed the fragility of their relations in October 2019 when Iran criticized Turkey’s moves to establish military posts inside Syria, emphasizing the need to respect the integrity of Syria.
Then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries following Tehran’s condemnation of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

BACKGROUND

Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.

In March 2018, Iran’s Tehran Times defined Turkey’s cross-border military operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as an “invasion.” It splashed with a headline that read: “Turkish troops occupy Syria’s Afrin.”
Over recent weeks, Ankara has voiced criticisms that the Assad regime, Iran-backed militia and Russia have violated the ceasefire in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib, with frequent attacks targeting Turkish troops.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, thinks that Assad’s forces are winning decisively, and Turkey’s ability to resist them is greatly diminished.
“Assad’s forces have consolidated their control over west Aleppo, and are steadily advancing in Idlib. Turkey does not view the Iranian mediation offers in Syria as credible, especially as Iranian media outlets are justifying them by claiming that Turkey broke the terms of the Sochi agreement by harboring extremists. Turkey is insistent that Russia violated Sochi by supporting Assad’s offensive,” he told Arab News.
Regarding the media conflict, Ramani thinks that Turkey and Iran are locked in an information war over Syria, and are both trying to paint the other as an aggressor.
“It’s a way to rally public support in both countries around more confrontational posturing, in the event of a bigger military escalation that actually sees Turkish and Iranian forces in direct combat, not just Assad and Turkish proxies,” he said.