Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech that has the potential to backfire as he attempted to win over Kurdish voters ahead of the crucial Istanbul mayoral election rerun on Sunday, independent Turkish outlet Diken reported.
The opposition candidate in the race, Ekrem İmamoğlu, appears to have the momentum as polling day nears, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been scrambling to reach out to voters after a divisive campaign ahead of the first vote in March.
“Even if they are Kurds, they are my brothers and sisters. And they’re human, so serving them is our duty”, Erdoğan said during an address to businessmen on Friday.
Erdoğan was discussing his government’s actions in the predominantly Kurdish southeast since 2015 when peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down.
The breakdown led to outbreaks of fighting in mainly Kurdish cities in the southeast and tough measures against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including stripping nearly 100 mayors of their mandates and replacing them with government appointees.
“What did we do? We rebuilt the houses with our appointed administrations from the ground up. Right now, you wouldn’t recognize Diyabakır”, Erdoğan said.
Large parts of several south-eastern cities were devastated by the heavy military response after militants linked to the PKK put up barricades in 2015.
Residents whose homes were bulldozed by the state during fighting in Diyarbakır, the largest city in the south-east, have said they were paid below the market rate for their demolished properties, which the state has gone on to sell at a vastly increased price.
While the conflict that started in 2015 coincided with the beginning of an alliance between Turkey’s ruling party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the opposition’s successes in major cities in the March 31 elections, won with tacit support of the HDP, have highlighted Kurdish voters as potential kingmakers when the rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election is held on Sunday.
The AKP has taken steps to reach out to Kurdish voters in the lead-up to the vote.
On Thursday, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported that jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had urged Kurdish voters to remain neutral in the vote.