In Van, the electoral authorities wanted to deny the Kurdish Abdullah Zeydan the position of mayor. After nationwide protests, he has now relented.

A person holds a sign showing Kurdish politician Abdullah Zeydan.

Solidarity with Zeydan: a protester with a photo of the newly elected mayor in Hatay, southern Turkey Photo: Murat Kocabas/imago

taz | The protests had an effect: on Wednesday, the electoral authority of the Turkish-Kurdish city of Van reversed its decision to deny the mayor's position to politician Abdullah Zeydan of the Kurdish DEM party. Zeydan won the election as co-mayor on March 31 with more than 55 percent of the vote, along with his party colleague Neslihan Şedal. However, Zeydan was denied the certificate of appointment: his competitor, the AKP candidate, who only received about 27 percent of the votes cast, was supposed to be elected mayor.

Protests subsequently broke out in Van and other predominantly Kurdish cities in the southeast of the country, but also in Istanbul and Izmir. After all, on Wednesday Zeydan was named mayor. The decision sparked relief and joy in opposition circles.

The reason for not giving the certificate to Zeydan was that his right to run as a candidate had been revoked two days before the election. This invalidates his candidacy. The electoral authority's decision was based on Zeydan's previous conviction. In 2016 he was charged with supporting a terrorist organization and terrorist propaganda. He was sentenced to a total of more than eight years in prison and spent just over five years in prison. When he was released in 2022, Zeydan had already served his sentence. He was acquitted of the second charge. In 2023, a criminal court ruled that he could be re-elected.

Abdullah Zeydan was born in 1972 in Yüksekova, Hakkâri, southeastern Turkey. He lived in Yüksekova until he studied at the private American International University in Cyprus. He worked as an architect and building contractor for several years. In 2012 he left his former party, the AKP, and moved to the social democratic BDP. The father of three was elected to the left-wing Kurdish HDP party in 2015. In 2016, his immunity was lifted and he was detained.

The face of the Kurdish freedom movement

The Kurdish politician was imprisoned in Edirne, western Turkey, along with his former party colleague Selahattin Demirtaş. A photo of the two walking through the prison yard, smiling, circulated online and in the media at the time. The image was a source of hope for many, as it was seen as representative of the Kurdish freedom movement, which refused to be defeated despite the repression of the Turkish state. At the time, he was also accused of attending the funeral of a PKK fighter and, according to his account, making a statement taken out of context.

In the wake of a Turkish airstrike against the PKK in northern Iraq in 2015, the politician said: “The PKK is a popular and peace movement that aims to transform Turkey and the Middle East into a garden of roses. If the PKK did not want to turn Turkey into a rose garden, it would have the power to suffocate it with its saliva.”

Van, where Zeydan is now supposed to be mayor, has been under AKP receivership for the last two legislative terms. Following the AKP's dramatic defeat and the opposition's victory in local elections on March 31, Van's news gives hope to many people in Turkey. However, the AKP could continue the dispute during his term and further question Zeydan's legitimacy.

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