We need to undertake legal and diplomatic efforts for Şirnex

By Fatoş Demirtaş

The situation in Şirnex is unlike any other. During the preparations of the election, a large contingent of soldiers was deployed to Şirnex. We promptly lodged our objections, but they were dismissed, and the occurrence was outright denied. It was the first time they imported votes from outside the city for the main elections.

In the recent elections, Şirnex, the center of Botan, was once again struck by the totalitarianism of the Turkish state, and its municipality was usurped through the manipulation with votes of military personnel. The DEM party and inhabitants of Şirnex immediately expressed their strong objection, and brought the state’s barbarity to the headlines. But unfortunately, after a couple of days, the reactions weakened, and the dangers of allowing the manipulated election results to be normalized gradually became more evident. To shed more light on this issue and bring it to the attention of the Kurdish people, our correspondent Fatoş Demirtaş conducted an interview with Bêrîvan Kutlu, the DEM party nominee for the municipality of Şirnex.

In your interview with Infowelat from before the elections, you said ‘If the Kurdish people unite their voices, then the votes imported from outside Şirnex won’t have an impact.’ Unfortunately, the state’s plan succeeded once again, and the AKP took control of the municipality of Şirnex. How would you describe the situation that emerged?

The situation in Şirnex is unlike any other. During the preparations of the election, a large contingent of soldiers was deployed to Şirnex. We promptly lodged our objections, but they were dismissed, and the occurrence was outright denied. It was the first time they imported votes from outside the city for the main elections. Before the municipal elections started, AKP nominee Mehmet Yarka met with Ibrahim Halil, the AKP chief in Şirnex, and openly stated, ‘If we don’t receive votes from outside the city, we won’t win the municipality. That’s why I won’t accept my nomination.’

Bêrîvan Kutlu was the DEM Party’s candidate for municipality of Şirnex, a city in Northern Kurdistan which is under control of Turkey. 

Boxes full of votes from outside

During their meeting, they decided to transport ballot boxes filled with votes from outside Şirnex. This was the first time the term “Vote Boxes” emerged, causing a public outcry. Their ploy was uncovered in the making and challenged by our friends. That was how the AKP planned to do it initially. However, they soon realized that even with these ballot boxes, they couldn’t manipulate the election outcome sufficiently. So, they devised another scheme that would affect thousands of our students studying in universities outside Şirnex. They arranged for their exams to be scheduled precisely the day after the elections, effectively preventing them from returning home to vote. Furthermore, many students reported receiving threats and warnings to discourage them from leaving and casting their votes.

We had another issue with getting voting permissions for thousands of our workers, who were out of town. So that they could return to Şirnex and cast their votes, we reached out to their employers, but our efforts weren’t enough to achieve a strong participation. Around 1,500 workers ended up not voting. Together with the students about 3,000 couldn’t make it to the polls and cast their vote.

We must understand that the people of Şirnex were determined to regain control of their municipality, and they made efforts accordingly. The state noticed this and therefore employed various schemes to obstruct their will. For example, whenever I visited a family, shortly after, the AKP governor and Şirnex nominee Mehmet Yarka would specifically visit the same homes. Yet, none of these schemes and efforts to sabotage democratic participation were enough for the state. They even brought in thousands of soldiers into Şirnex to cast their votes. On election day, we visited one of the schools ourselves and witnessed firsthand that 6,000 soldiers were stationed there alone.

Everything was done very openly, and they blatantly violated the will of the people of Şirnex for all to see. There wasn’t a single civilian in that school. They claimed they brought these soldiers for security, but they were all wearing tracksuits. They brought those soldiers from Bursa, Konya, Manisa, and Bolu. Why would these soldiers from elsewhere be tasked with protecting Şirnex? Clearly, this excuse had nothing to do with the truth. To cover up the theft, they allocated 20 votes to the CHP for each ballot box in that school. The only votes we received were from our members who were monitoring the ballot boxes. So, in that school, we only got 3-4 votes. We expressed our outrage at this situation, but our problem was that our reactions weren’t enough to incite an uprising. We shouldn’t have allowed the soldiers to cast their votes in that school. The police’s response to our reactions would have been particularly interesting in that scenario. The police chief told us, ‘You’re in the right, but don’t be the cause of any issues on election day.’ He even said, ‘We’ll assist you with legal measures.’ Since everything was so overtly done, we told them, ‘If you’re already openly violating our will like this, then just go ahead and kill us already.

The governor, district governor, army, and all official institutions collaborated to ensure the AKP’s success. In essence, they viewed the situation as our competition against the state in the elections. As the branch of the DEM party in Şirnex, we didn’t enter into an electoral contest with a political party, but rather with the state itself.

The members of Turkish Army who return from Kurdistan after voted for ruling party AKP in Şirnex on March 31st local elections/ANF

The importance of Şirnex for the state

Why is the state so obsessed with gaining control of Şirnex at any cost and under every circumstance?

All of this raises the question of why the state is so obsessed on gaining control of Şirnex at any cost. Şirnex is a city of great importance to the Kurdish people. It stands as the center of the Botan region and holds historical significance as a hub for uprisings. There are few cities left in Kurdistan like Şirnex, where the Kurdish identity remains unassimilated and preserved. Once the state gains political control over Şirnex, it can deal significant blows to efforts aimed at preserving the ethnic and political identity of Kurds. The state’s success in Şirnex could jeopardize Kurdish aspirations for freedom and bolster state propaganda against us.

Another factor is the region’s natural resources, particularly the presence of oil in Gabar. The AKP circle and parliamentarians in Şirnex are known to receive a share of the revenues from this oil. This adds to the reasons why, alongside the state, the AKP municipal team is so personally fixated on controlling Şirnex. It has always been their policy to impoverish the inhabitants of Şirnex as much as possible and profit from their resources.

But all in all we can say that the AKP couldn’t gain significant foothold in Şirnex. They received 18,000 votes in Şirnex, of which reportedly 8,500 came solely from the ballot boxes imported to our city from the previous year’s 2023 elections. And then they got the votes that they orchestrated through the presence of thousands of military and police personnel in Şirnex. This leaves them with a maximum of 4,000 votes that they could have received in Şirnex in this election.

600 soldiers in a single room

As far as we could observe, the residents of Şirnex and members of the DEM party were actively protesting the election results. However, after a few days, the issue received less attention and now appears to have been dropped entirely from public discourse. What can you tell us about this development?

The situation was partly overshadowed by the simultaneous breaking news from Wan city, diverting attention from the events in Şirnex. However, it needs to be understood that we do not have a regional problem just because the political schemes of the AKP were exposed in Şirnex. From our own party’s central office to all international human rights organizations, we need to express our objection to what happened and not leave the case be.

The people of Şirnex have not rested yet, and thousands of Şirnexî youths are waiting for our party to organize them on this matter. It’s imperative that the central office of the DEM party continues to press on this issue. We have to let the world hear us saying ‘Look at how they violated the free will of the Kurds.’ Everything was done overtly. Consider how they squeezed 600 soldiers into a single room just to register them as residents of our city. How is it possible for so many soldiers to stay in a room meant for only 3 people? No, the people of Şirnex have not forgotten what happened here, and they have not become indifferent. Mehmet Yarkan, the AKP nominee, cannot walk down any street of Şirnex without being called a ‘Thief’ by children, youngsters, women, and all citizens. That’s why he rarely leaves his home. He has been so shamed by the inhabitants that he couldn’t even attend the funerals of his family members. We promised that he would never find peace when walking the streets of Şirnex. Moving forward, we will devise plans on how to handle situations like the current one if they arise again in the future.

Şirnex is the capital of Şirnex Province in Turkish provincial administarive structure and at the same time it is the center of Botan which is the historical and cultural region of Northern Kurdistan.


A legal and diplomatic struggle

What legal actions has your party taken thus far regarding this political barbarity? Have organizations such as the Human Rights Organization IHD, the Şirnex Bar Association, and other organizations in Kurdistan made efforts to address the violation of the right to local governance, or have they already prepared reports?

The syndicates of Şirnex have issued an official statement on this matter. The Bar Association informed us that they have already prepared a report, and other civil organizations should do the same. However, even with all of these efforts, it would not be sufficient for us. Political parties in Turkey must also react to what happened here; their current stance of silence is unacceptable. We exposed the four schools where soldiers cast their votes and lodged a complaint with the public prosecutor of Şirnex. We have all the evidence needed, including details of the buses and helicopters deployed before the election day.

The usurpation of the municipality of a Kurdish city also presents a situation that necessitates diplomatic efforts. Does your party have any plans to raise this issue with international organizations?

After the elections, our party had planned to focus specifically on the situations in Şirnex and Bitlis. However, we must recognize that the attacks on us are far from normal. Recent events, such as the incidents in Wan, the crackdown on our party’s office Batman, and the dispatching of inspectors to some of our municipalities, highlight this. We need a consistent and step-by-step diplomatic plan to effectively advocate for the Şirnex case in Turkey. Our party’s branch in Botan will strongly urge our central office to pursue this approach. The targeting of Şirnex is an attack on Kurdistan, the Kurdish people, and all oppressed peoples. In addition to the center of Şirnex, they also usurped the municipalities of Elkê and Qilaban. With 19 municipalities in Şirnex, we won all of them in the election. If we don’t address this situation firmly now, we risk losing not only Şirnex but also other parts of Kurdistan in future elections. Therefore, we are obliged to bolster our diplomatic efforts and advocate for this matter under any circumstance.

Cover image: Berîvan Kutlu, DEM party’s candidate for the municipality of Şirnex in the last local elections in Turkey. 

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This interview was taken from the 6th edition of the Kurdistan, a montly e-magazine of Infowelat.com. It was done by Fatoş Demirtaş and translated to English by Rizgar Botan. The original title of the interview has been altered.

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