Union of Southeastern Anatolia Region Municipalities
16 December 2016
Authoritarian tendencies of the current government in Turkey have reached new heights after two important turning points; namely the end of the peace negotiations with the Kurdish movement in July 2015 and the coup attempt on 15 July 2016. During this period, all liberties including right to live are repeatedly violated by the Turkish state.
Political pressure that has been continuing during the last 18 months and the armed clashes in town centers prevented the regional municipalities to deliver their services to the citizens. The same period has also witnessed increasing attempts of the government to prevent implementation of regional municipalities’ specific projects and work aiming at women and improvement of their conditions in the society. Tens of female mayors and city council members, including co-mayor of Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality and Co-Chair of GABB Gültan KIŞANAK are arrested by the Turkish state while other female politicians were illegally removed from their positions in the municipalities. In addition, the state hindered municipal work concerning women, and prevented municipalities to conduct ethnographic research on women. The state also prosecuted regional women centers for their work.
The latest example of this immense political pressure came when trustees were appointed to the 44 municipalities belonging to Democratic Regions Party (DBP) without a prior approval of the Turkish Grand Assembly. The Turkish government relied on the state of emergency powers and governmental decrees while removing popularly elected mayors and city council members from their positions.
This report aims to summarize the developments after trustees were appointed to these municipalities. This report specifically focuses on the pressures and attacks on co-mayor system and municipal work targeting women.
Municipalities and city councils are the most important organs of democracies and democratic governance at the local level. These bodies are the best examples to the principle of universal democracy as they are chosen by the people who vote in local elections with their free will.
Women’s participation, both as candidates and voters, in local elections is also a sine qua non of the principle of universal democracy. Women’s equal participation in all organs of local governance bodies is a prerequisite of the consolidation of democracy at the local level. However, in terms of women’s representation in local governance bodies, the world political history does not fare well.
The same could also be said for the relationship between women and local politics in Turkey. The first local elections in Turkey were held in 1930. In these elections, women were allowed to run for the office. In these elections, first female mayor was elected in Kilickaya town of Yusufeli, Artvin. Some women were elected to city councils in Istanbul and Izmir, two major cities of Turkey. Between 1930 and 1963, only two women were elected as mayors in Turkey. Though there is a slight increase in women’s participation in local elections, between 1930 and 2009, only 85 women were elected as mayors in Turkey (See Table 1 for details).
A new phase started in 1999 with respect to representation of women in Turkish local elections. With the 1999 local elections, the predecessors of the DBP started to compete in the local elections. The participation of these political parties dramatically increased female participation in local elections in Turkey. These parties introduced gender quotas in their candidate lists for local elections. As a result, in 1999 local elections, three women were elected as mayors from the ranks of the HDP. This number increased to nine female mayors from the DTP ranks in 2004, only to be followed to fifteen female mayors from the DTP in the 2009 local elections. In parallel with increasing number of female mayors, women’s representation in city councils had also increased considerably between 1999 and 2009.
Table1: Number of Elected Female Mayors in Turkey between 1968 and 2009 (distributed according to political party affiliation)
Total Number of Municipalities
Number of Female Mayors
|Political Party Affiliation|
2014 local elections was a turning point in terms of representation of women in local politics in Turkey.With the BDP’s decision to enter the local elections with the co-mayor system, the party nominated both a male and a female candidate for the same mayoral seat. Because the co-mayor system was not legal at the local level, one of the candidates (either male or female) was nominated for the city council seat. In 2014 local elections, both candidates ran the political campaigns. During the campaign period, the candidates advertised the co-mayor system to their potential voters as well.
The BDP’s decision to implement co-mayor system resulted with the highest number of female mayors in the history of Turkey. The BDP won elections in 106 municipalities. In 96 of these 106 municipalities (See Appendix 1), the city councils ratified the co-mayor system. As a result, 96 female co-mayors started their jobs after the 2014 local elections. While there were only 13 female mayors officially elected from the other three political parties in the parliament, the official number of female mayors in municipalities belonging to the BDP was 24. In the remaining 72 municipalities, female co-mayors started their jobs after a decision of city councils ratifying the co-mayor system.
Figure 1: Comparison of Number of Female Mayors Elected from the BDP list and the Total Number of Municipalities Belonging to the BDP.
During the 2014 local elections, the BDP candidate list ensured that the female candidates had an equal chance of getting elected with male candidates. As a result of this deliberate choice, the number of female members in the city councils has increased from 190 to 363 while the number of female members in general city councils has increased to 20 (See Figure 2 for details).
Figure 2: Increase in the Number of Female Members of the City Councils between 2009 and 2014
According to the 2012 Gender Discrimination Report published by the World Economic Forum, in terms of gender inequality, Turkey is placed at 124thposition among 135 countries.In this respect, it is hard to undermine the importance of the DBP municipalities’ work targeting women in a country where gender inequality is the norm.
After the 2014 local elections, women councils were created with the participation of elected female city council members and female employees of the DBP municipalities. The major goal of these women councils was to increase women’s involvement in decision-making mechanisms at the local level. In addition, women coordination groups were established to oversee day-to-day works of the DBP municipalities. The councils and coordination groups were important instruments that allowed our municipalities to introduce women’s perspective in the municipal work. The DBP municipalities also created ‘male-female quality commissions’ with an equal participation of males and females.
In three DBP metropolitan municipalities (Diyarbakır. Mardin, and Van), Departments of Women Politics were created while Offices of Women Politics were created in smaller DBP municipalities. Under these departments and offices, further units were created that specifically dealt with issues such as women and economy, women and education, and violence against women.
The DBP municipalities established and supported specialized units (women’s houses, women’s cooperatives, and research centers on women) that aimed at providing psychological counseling and physical protection to women who were victimized by physical, sexual, or emotional violence. As of today, there are 43 women’s centers and 4 women shelters created by the DBP municipalities.
Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality had also created a special phone line and stations that were aiming to help and save women who were suffering from sexual or physical violence and a threat to their lives. It must be noted that these were the first of their kind in local politics in Turkey.
The DBP municipalities prepared seminars and education programs on social gender roles. These seminars and education programs were held in hundreds of neighborhoods and villages. The DBP municipalities also gave specific seminars on women’s health. At the end of these seminars, free-of-charge medical screenings were provided for the local women.
Photo: Our municipalities’ work with women in residential neighborhoods
To boost women’s participation in economic life, our municipalities developed several projects at the local level including but not limited to local bazaars where women could sell their products, greenhouse and organic farming for women.
To release women from some of their duties at home, our municipalities opened and supported kindergartens and theaters. In these facilities, children were able to participate in several activities that were mostly held in their own mother tongue.
To expand women’s freedoms in the public sphere, our municipalities’ opened and supported women-specific parks, women’s rest houses, only-women gyms, public laundries, and public bread-making facilities.
All of our municipalities accepted March 8th as an official holiday. Articles concerned with women’s freedom were added in all collective labor contracts signed between our municipalities and municipal employees, hence developing important means to fight gender discrimination in the workplace.
Photo:Textile Batman Municipality’s Textile Atelier for Women
The civil war in Turkey has been continuing for more than three decades. During this long period, it was only during negotiations and ceasefires where some democratization was discernible. The peace negotiations that started in 2013 and lasted for 2.5 years had strengthened the conviction amongst the local people that a peaceful and democratic solution to Kurdish question was possible. It was also fair to argue that the local elections held during the same period were free and fair. In these elections, the DBP candidates won the race for 106 municipalities.
During the campaigning period, the DBP candidates clearly stated that the DBP favored the co-mayor system as well as a gender equality perspective should the DBP win the elections. It was after campaigns based on these two premises that the DBP acquired 106 municipalities with very high shares of the popular vote (See the table below for details)
|DBP Municipalities under the control of trustees who are appointed by the Turkish state (dated 16 December 2016)|
|City – Province||Population||DBP’s Share of the Votes|
|Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality||1,603 K||55.1%|
|Silvan Municipality – Diyarbakır||86 K||69.55%|
|Sur Municipality- Diyarbakır||121 K||54.41%|
|Hani Municipality – Diyarbakır||33 K||45.8%|
|Yenişehir Municipality – Diyarbakır||207 K||50.1 %|
|Kayapınar Municipality – Diyarbakır||309 K||54.6 %|
|Van Metropolitan Municipality||1.096 K||53 %|
|Edremit Municipality – Van||114 K||50.91%|
|Ercis Municipality – Van||172 K||49.43%|
|Ipekyolu Municipality – Van||275 K||48.32%|
|Özalp Municipality – Van||71 K||71.62%|
|Mardin Metropolitan Municipality||796 K||52 %|
|Dargeçit Municipality- Mardin||27 K||60.16%|
|Derik Municipality – Mardin||62 K||64.4%|
|Mazidagi Municipality – Mardin||33 K||61.71%|
|Nusaybin Municipality – Mardin||116 K||78.78%|
|Kızıltepe Municipality – Mardin||237 K||62.5 %|
|Artuklu Municipality – Mardin||156 K||35.7 %|
|Sirnak Municipality||92 K||59.6%|
|Cizre Municipality – Sirnak||133 K||81.61%|
|Silopi Municipality – Sirnak||115 K||78.19%|
|İdil Municipality- Sirnak||73 K||78.9%|
|Sırtköy Municipality – Şırnak||2 K||61 %|
|Batman Municipality||557 K||55.89%|
|Besiri Municipality – Batman||30 K||50.45%|
|Gercüs Municipality – Batman||20 K||52.43%|
|Ikikopru Municipality- Batman||4 K||56.22%|
|Hakkari Municipality||275 K||66.83%|
|Çukurca Municipality – Hakkari||17 K||54.2 %|
|Siirt Municipality||320 K||49 %|
|Eruh Municipality – Siirt||20 K||52.37%|
|Tunceli Municipality||86 K||42 %|
|Bitlis Municipality||67 K||43.9 %|
|Güroymak Municipality – Bitlis||46 K||48.1 %|
|Ovakisla Municipality – Bitlis||4 K||37.46%|
|Hınıs Municipality – Erzurum||29 K||39.08%|
|Karayazı Municipality- Erzurum||29 K||62.1 %|
|Tuzluca Municipality – Igdir||24 K||51.67%|
|Hoshaber Municipality- Igdir||2 K||61.75%|
|Bulanık Municipality – Mus||83 K||45.84%|
|Varto Municipality – Muş||32 K||63 %|
|Malazgirt Municipality – Muş||54 K||39.1 %|
|Suruç Municipality – Sanliurfa||102 K||52.58%|
|Diyadin Municipality- Agri||43 K||48.43%|
After the elections, the co-mayor system was implemented in our municipalities following its ratification by the city councils. However, in July 2015, the conflicts have restarted and escalated quickly. One of the tactics of the central government in this new conflictual period was to question the legitimacy of the co-mayor system. Several investigations targeting our co-mayors were opened by the state. In addition, our co-mayors were arrested or forcibly removed from their positions with several pretexts. The same period has also witnessed the state’s repeated attempts to hinder municipal work targeting women. To give an instance, the protocols signed between the DBP municipalities’ women centers and the offices public education were cancelled by the state without providing any legal reason.
|Imprisoned Female Co-Mayors|
|Name and Surname||Position||Date of Arrest (Day.Month.Year)|
|Gültan Kışanak||Co-mayor of Diyarbakır||30.10.2016|
|Dilek Hatipoğlu||Co-mayor of Hakkari||25.08.2015|
|Handan Bağcı||Co-mayor of Özalp||11.10.2015|
|Diba Keskin||Co-mayor of Erciş||15.10.2015|
|Zeynep Şipçik||Co-mayor of Dargeçit||31.03.2016|
|Sabahat Çetinkaya||Co-mayor of Derik||26.02.2016|
|Hazal Aras||Co-mayor of Diyadin||05.03.2016|
|Figen Yaşar||Co-mayor of Bulanık||23.04.2016|
|Aygün Taşkın||Co-mayor of Ergani||07.05.2016|
|Seyran Arğan||Co-mayor of Beytüşşebap||10.06.2016|
|Nevin Oyman Girasun||Co-mayor of İdil||24.08.2016|
|Tülay Karaca||Co-mayor of Tekman||23.09.2016|
|Zilan Aldatmaz||Co-mayor of Saray||30.09.2016|
|Cennet Ayik||Co-mayor of Karakoçan||01.10.2016|
|Servin Karakoç||Co-mayor of Ovakışla||01.11.2016|
|Suna Atabay||Co-mayor of Çaldıran||02.11.2016|
|Sabite Ekinci||Co-mayor of Varto||09.11.2016|
|Nurhayat Altun||Co-mayor of Tunceli||17.11.2016|
|Rabia Takas||Co-mayor of Başverimli||22.11.2016|
|Nevin Daşdemir Dağkıran||Co-mayor of Bitlis||25.11.2016|
|Senayet Ata||Co-mayor of Güroymak||25.11.2016|
|Memnune Söylemez||Co-mayor of Malazgirt||28.11.2016|
|Leyla Salman||Co-mayor of Kızıltepe||02.12.2016|
|Hilal Duman||Co-mayor of Çukurca||08.12.2016|
|Adile Kozay||Co-mayor of Yüksekova||08.12.2016|
|Zeynep Han Bingöl||Co-mayor of Karayazı||09.12.2016|
|Özlem Kutlu||Co-mayor of Kumçatı||10.12.2016|
As of 16 december 2016, 27 female co-mayors of the DBP are under arrest. 4 female co-mayor is still kept under detention by the Turkish police. 28 female co-mayors are removed from their positions. 2 female co-mayors have search warrant for their names. In addition, 22 female co-mayors of the DBP were either detained or arrested in different dates, and later released by the state.
After the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, the current government declared a state of emergency. The government used the state of emergency powers sparely to implement extra-legal practices in the regions populated by Kurds. After 11 September 2016, the Turkish state appointed trustees in 44 municipalities belonging to the DBP. The Internet was completely shut down in the cities and towns where trustees were appointed. Without any announcements to municipalities, trustees came to the municipal buildings around 07:00 am in the company of special police forces. The municipal buildings were blockaded with armored vehicles immediately. Co-mayors, municipal employees, and members of city councils were removed from the building forcibly. The security forces also attacked the civilians who gathered in front of the municipal building to protest trustee appointments. The very first action of the trustees was to remove the multilingual signboards of municipalities.
Photo: The police blockade around the SurMunicipality after the appointment of the trustees
The state of emergency declared after 15 July 2015 enables the Turkish government and the President to publish executive and legislative decrees without being subject to parliamentary control. The legislative decree numbered 674th published on 15 August 2016 has introduced the following changes to the law on municipalities.
All rules and practices related to municipal bodies are regulated throughMunicipal Law no. 5393. Amendments in 38th, 39th and 40th articles of thislaw are as follows:
- If a mayor, deputy mayor or member of the city council is removed from their post “due to crimes related to terror or of riding and abetting terror organizations”, appointments can be done on behalf of them tometropolitan municipalities and provincial municipalities by the Ministry of Interior Affairs and bygovernors to other municipalities (towns). The only criterion for appointees is to be eligible to be elected.
- This amendment can also applied retrospectively to those mayors, actingmayors or members of city councils who are subjected to ongoing investigations and/or prosecutions. Appointees will replace investigated/prosecutedco-mayors, acting mayors or members of the city council within15 days.
- Afterthe appointment of a trustee, “Budgetary tasks and accounting transactions of municipalities can be carried out by revenue offices or fiscal directorate with the approval of the office of governors”.
- Afterthe appointment of thetrustee, the city council cannot hold meetingswithout obtaining a prior approval of appointed trustee.
- Afterthe appointment of a trustee, authority of the city council, city boardand commissions within city councils can be transferred to officiallyappointed city board members.
- In municipalities and affiliated bodies, “if the office of the governor determines negligence of duty that negatively affects war on terror and violent incidents”, those services can be delivered under authority of the office of governor via official institutions which are under the mandate of the central government. Expenses emerging out to of delivering these services will be projected to thebudget of the municipality “without being subject to any monetary and budgetary limitations”.
- In municipalities and affiliated bodies, “if the office of the governor determines resources of municipalities are used to support terrorist activities and violent incidents directly or indirectly”, movable properties of municipalities can be seized by the governor or the district governor’s office. In this case, personnel incharge can be dismissed and she/he can only be restored to work with the order of the office that dismissed her/him.
The legal process for any of co-mayors of 44 municipalities has not been finalized yet. Before Decree No. 674 came into force, based on the Municipal Law no. 5393, the Ministry of Interior Affairs had right to remove mayors from the office until the legal process to be finalized, if they are investigated/prosecuted for charges related to misuse of power. When Decree No. 674 was signed, 33 co-mayors of the DBP had already been suspended from office in previous months. Instead of these co-mayors, acting mayors were elected with majority vote by municipal council members, a council functioning as legislative body for municipalities. Thus existing Municipal Law 5393 wasfunctional based on relatively democratic principles and procedures beforeDecree No. 674 was enacted. Though the current government could continue with the same practice, enacting a new decree to assume full control upon municipalities is the evidence that the central government directly aims at a disfunctioning of the city council whose members were directly elected by the people’s votes. The fact that the city council cannot convene without obtaining a prior consent of the trustee is further evidence supporting this conviction. In addition to appointing bureaucrats instead of co-mayors, governors have also appointed new city council members in various provinces/cities instead of popularly elected city council members.
Photo: Gültan Kışanak, co-mayor of Diyarbakir Municipality
After the appointment of trustees, the municipal buildings confiscated by the state were practically turned into police stations due to presence of heavy security measures. Before the appointment of trustees, these municipalities were institutions where women could go and seek solutions to their problems. However, after the new period has begun, these institutions became completely isolated from the people. Police barriers, armored vehicles and special ops police surrounded municipal buildings. The new phase under trustees also witnessed heavy attacks on the DBP municipalities’ work concerning women.
– The trustee appointed to Cizre Municipality shut down SitiyaZîn Counseling Center for Women. The trustee confiscated the archive, belonging to the Center and entailing sensitive information about women. In case the confiscated archive is not protected properly, the information in this archive could endanger several women’s lives. This is an important breach of individual rights that also contradicts with the principles of international treaties where Turkey is a signatory state.
Photo:The blockade of the special ops police around the Batman Municipality after the appointment of the trustee.
– The trustee appointed to Van Edremit Municipality removed the signboards of the Office of Women. All women working under this office were also suspended from active duty.
– The trustee passivized the Office of Women Politics at the Van Ercis Municipality. The BûkaBaranê Women Atelier operating under this office was closed down.
– The trustee appointed to the Batman Municipality closed down the Office of Women Politics. Several units operating under this office were brought under the control of the Office of Social Charity. The trustee also ended the contract of the manager of the Office of Women Politics before its due term. In addition, the municipal theater, which predominantly staged plays for children, was shut down by the new administration.
– The trustee appointed to Diyarbakır Silvan Municipality closed down Meya Women Center, an institution that provided free-of-charge counseling to women on different matters. Women employees were not allowed into the Center. All documents and dossiers of the Center were confiscated. In addition, 25 employees working in the Center were laid off.
– The trustee, who was appointed to the Mardin Dargeçit Municipality, shut down Cicek Women Center. The female employees working at this center were reappointed as cleaning workers. When the women protested these policies, they were laid off by the trustee.
– After his appointment to the Mardin Nusaybin Municipality, the trustee stopped all municipal work targeting women. The employees were either passivized or reappointed to other departments.
– The trustee at Mardin Derik Municipality closed down the Peljin Women Center.
– The trustee at Mardin Mazıdağı Municipality shut down Rewsen Women Center. 7 women employed by this office were laid off by the trustee. The office material and furniture belonging to the Center were also confiscated by the trustee.
– The trustee at Sur Municipality closed down Amida Women Counselling Center.
– Women policies and activities stopped in all trustee-appointed municipalities. Women policies’ directories were shut down. The women works/policies started to be evaluated as a part of social welfare.
– 103 women employees in our municipalities are discharged by Decree no. 677.
Current government’s policy of appointing trustees instead of elected DBP co-mayors shows important resemblances with a military junta’s intervention to legitimate political institutions in the aftermath of a military coup. In this respect, it is fair to say that the current government violates democratic principles, as a military government would do.
The new period did not only witness removal of elected co-mayors and appointment of unelected trustees. During the same period, the central government stripped city councils off their prerogatives. These practices demonstrate that the state policies with respect to the DBP municipalities have nothing to do with legal principles. Instead, these policies should be evaluated as extensions of the current government’s political agenda.
During their short term in power, the DBP municipalities have developed a new perspective that prioritized gender equality and freedom of women from male’s oppression. The co-mayor system, which guaranteed an involvement of women in top decision-making mechanisms, was a natural extension of this new perspective promoted by the DBP municipalities after the 2014 local elections. The trustee system should be understood as a direct assault to the new perspective developed by the DBP municipalities. Trustees appointed by the state abolished newly created municipal bodies that tried to improve the economic, social, and political position of women in the region. Female co-mayors were either arrested or forcibly removed from their positions. These practices are reflections of patriarchal mentality that prevails in the highest echelons of the Turkish state.
The political pressure on the DBP municipalities should be ended immediately. It is in everybody’s interest that the Turkish state abandonsits policies that only deteriorate the conditions of the people in the region. We also demand that the Turkish state respect the articles of European Charter of Local Self Government that was signed by Turkey in 1988. We demand that the Turkish state respects the conditions for a stronger democracy at the local level by being attentive to the will of the local people and the results of the local elections.
* * *
 With the 1990s, different political parties hailing from the same tradition were founded in Turkey. In chronological order, these parties are as follows: HEP, DEP, ÖZDEP, HADEP, DEHAP, DTP, BDP. These political parties, which were mostly supported by Turkey’s Kurdish minority, were either closed down by the state, or these parties had to change their names due to political pressure. After the 2014 local elections, the BDP changed its name to the DBP.
 The coup-makers after the September 1980 military coup suspended elections in Turkey until 1983. Though the military junta appoints 2 female mayors during this period, their numbers are not reflected in this table since they are elected by the popular vote.
KADER KadınAdaylarıDesteklemeDerneği [Association to Support Female Candidates]. Retrieved at