Please note that on our website we use cookies to enhance your experience, and for analytics purposes. To learn more about our cookies, please read our privacy policy. By clicking ‘Allow cookies’, you agree to our use of cookies. By clicking ‘Decline’, you don’t agree to our Privacy Policy.

No translations available

Türkiye’s local elections: the minority lens

30 March 2024

Tomorrow, millions of people in Türkiye will head to the polls and vote in local elections. Although they are to elect local leaders, these elections will be a pivotal litmus test for the opposition parties, with consequences for the future of the country as a whole.

Türkiye with its rich ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity, stands as a mosaic of cultures, traditions and beliefs. About a quarter of its population belongs to one of over 20 different minority communities. Yet minority protection in the country is weak – to this day, relying heavily on the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which only covers non-Muslim communities recognized at that time, leaving many others with very limited protections.

Citing these provisions, the government has declined to accede to modern legal instruments that would more strongly protect the rights of all its minorities. This entrenched marginalization is borne out daily in a country where the voices of minorities often go unheard, drowned out by the government’s heavy-handed tactics of discrimination, isolation and oppression.

Such systemic suppression becomes particularly evident in regions like South-East Türkiye, the traditional homeland of Kurds, who make up about a fifth of Türkiye’s population. For decades, these communities have endured a tumultuous struggle to assert their rights, even in the basic act of selecting their local leaders. Instead of elected mayors, appointed trustees wield power, relegating cities in the South-East to the governance of external forces.

The arbitrary removal and detention of democratically elected Kurdish mayors not only infringe upon the rights of voters but also embody the government’s relentless assault on opposition voices, notably the Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi or HDP), a left-wing party that espouses minority rights, especially those of Kurds, among its core beliefs.

The attack on the HDP has seen raids and crackdowns as well as the arrest and detention of thousands of its members and officials. The recent ousting of 23 Kurdish HDP mayors and a further 47 elected HDP officials in the region, replaced by government-appointed trustees, epitomizes a blatant disregard for democratic principles and local autonomy. By stifling the functioning of elected local councils, these actions effectively strip minorities of their decision-making power, exacerbating their already marginalized status.

Hence despite the ostensibly democratic process of local elections, Türkiye’s political landscape remains marred by a dearth of diversity and dissenting voices. A lack of accountability and erosion of the rule of law leave minorities vulnerable, their rights and aspirations relegated to the sidelines.

The recent earthquakes that ravaged much of South Eastern Türkiye, centred on Hatay, serve as a grim reminder of the government’s neglect and indifference towards its minority communities. The appalling conditions still endured over one year since the quake by survivors, particularly the country’s traditionally itinerant Roma, Dom and Abdal communities, as well as Alevis, an Islamic minority, provide evidence of how wider societal discrimination has also impacted relief efforts. Despite promises of aid, these marginalized communities continue to languish in makeshift shelters, deprived of basic necessities like clean water, and access to sanitation, work and food. The dire lack of access to essential amenities further exacerbates their suffering, pushing them even further to the fringes of society. Discrimination against minorities continues to worsen in the aftermath of the earthquake, as far-right groups exploit these vulnerabilities to incite violence and perpetuate structural racism.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s politicization of the tragedy further compounds the plight of earthquake victims, whereby a community’s pledge (or not) of allegiance to the ruling party is linked to the provision of essential services. Thus the government’s reluctance to collaborate with opposition-held cities underscores its prioritization of political power over the welfare of its citizens.

As Türkiye braces for its upcoming local elections on 31 March, a pervasive sense of hopelessness looms large among minority communities. Despite the resilience of its diverse people and their fervent push for change, entrenched systems of oppression and discrimination continue to thwart any meaningful progress towards inclusivity and justice.

In the face of adversity, Türkiye stands at a crossroads, where the choice between perpetuating division or embracing diversity will shape the nation’s trajectory for generations to come. It is imperative for all stakeholders, irrespective of ethnicity, language, religion or political affiliation, to come together and advocate for a more equitable and inclusive Türkiye where every voice is not only heard but valued.

Zini Cömert, an Alevi, who left her home in the centre of Adıyaman, which was heavily damaged in the earthquake, and returned to her village Karaağaç. 26 March 2023. Credit: Eren Aytug/NarPhotos.


Gözde Aslanhan

Turkish Programmes Officer

Minority Rights Group