DIYARBAKIR–Turkey (Reuters)–Kurdish mayor Feridun Celik–out of jail and back at work on Tuesday–said "dark forces" were working to thwart peace hopes and block Turkey’s road to Europe.
The arrest earlier this month of Celik–mayor of Diyarbakir–and two other Kurdish mayors by paramilitary police led to a formal protest from the European Union which only recently recognized Turkey as an entry candidate.
"We are struggling for democracy and peace to come to Turkey," Celik told Reuters in an interview late on Monday–hours after his release from jail. "But some dark forces are trying to create a provocative environment at a time when it looks as though Turkey is a rising star on the world stage."
Celik and the mayors of Siirt and Bingol were charged with aiding and abetting Abdullah Ocalan’s armed separatist rebels.
The move disturbed Western officials who had seen them as a possible medium to settle grievances in the troubled southeast.
The three swept to power with large majorities alongside dozens of fellow People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) mayors in the mainly Kurdish region after local elections last April.
Even Turkey’s strongest backer–the United States–which tends to see its NATO ally from a strategic perspective and is less vocal on accusations of rights abuses than EU countries–called the arrests–especially the dramatic manner employed by local security forces–"deeply disturbing."
"My car was stopped in the middle of the road," said Celik–looking weary and subdued. "A gendarmerie officer came and told me I was being detained.
"I protested–and said everyone knew who I was–my position and address were clearly known–but they took me in."
Asked if he had been abused in custody–including the four days without access to a lawyer allowed by emergency rule–Celik said–"We were maltreated–but I don’t want to go into details."
Turkey has spent $100 billion in its battle against Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). It pays tens of thousands of "village guard" militiamen to help in the fight and police and civil servants are paid extra to serve in the troubled region.
Kurdish activists say many of these do not want to see an end to the "war economy." The officials distrust what they see as interference by European diplomats shining the spotlight on rights issues since Turkey gained EU candidacy in December.
"Around 12 ambassadors have visited me–this caused unease," said Celik–who sports a thick mustache and walks with a cane–the legacy of a road accident.
"It was clear that the fact that European countries were watching us closely had caused some discomfort. But we were a serious lobby group for Turkey to be made an EU candidate."
Ocalan has ordered his PKK guerrillas to stop the fighting which has killed some 30,000 people in 15 years and transform themselves into a peaceful political force. Ankara sees the move as a ruse to recoup recent years’ losses on the battlefield.
HADEP has echoed calls for peace and urged Turkish authorities to ease curbs on Kurdish education and broadcasting.
But Turkish leaders including Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit have accused HADEP of being in league with the PKK–while police say the mayors visited a rebel commander Murat Karayilan in the Netherlands and took orders from him. HADEP faces a possible ban in the courts later this year.
Celik rejected Ecevit’s charges. "The prime minister said we were being political–but this is natural. We have a political identity," said Celik. "Nothing could be as natural as our voicing our people’s concerns. Nobody should be afraid of this.
"The real thing to be afraid of is silence."