‘I am a guardian of peace’ Erdogan says, seeking Kurdish support for referendum

President Erdogan's posters adorn Diyarbakir's main roads alongside Turkish flags, 1 April 2017.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed himself a “guardian of peace” and called on Kurds to vote “Yes” in the upcoming referendum while speaking to a crowd of a few thousand in Diyarbakir on Saturday.

“PKK supporters keep talking about peace. We are the guardians of peace, we are the guardians of freedoms. We never hid our love for you, we loved you openly! We love Diyarbakir and we will continue to love Diyarbakir,” said Erdogan according to a report on the news site T24.

“The PKK is bombing everything we built here. They are traitors, they are villains and they do not love my Kurdish brethren. They call you to the Qandil Mountain, we are inviting you to the parliament,” said Erdogan.

Thirteen deputies of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – the only party strongly emphasising Kurdish and minority rights – including the co-chairs are in prison pending trial, in addition to close to 2,000 party administrators.

In his speech, Erdogan also referred to his four month stint in prison in 1999 after which he was forced to give up his position as Istanbul mayor. “I myself am someone whose mayorship was taken away from him. You see how things are changing since the appointment of new mayors and trustees according to the law,” he said.

Diyarbakir is among close to a hundred province or district municipalities that were administered by the HDP or its sister Democratic Regions (DBP) Party until recently. A decree law issued by Erdogan last year led to the dismissal of co-mayors and their replacement by government appointed trustees.

Meanwhile HDP lawmaker Nadir Yildirim has called Erdogan’s Diyarbakir visit a “devastating loss” for the president.

Yildirim claimed Erdogan had wanted to cancel the public meeting after very few people turned up.

“Erdogan did not come to Diyarbakir for a meeting, he came as an occupier. The appointed trustees covered the whole city with his posters in Goebbels fashion. Erdogan’s visit was military in nature and symbolic of colonialism. However despite this and despite bringing crowds from outside the city, Diyarbakir was a defeat for Erdogan.

The HDP is opposed to the 18-article reform up for referendum on 16 April. The changes seek to give the president executive powers such as the right to dissolve parliament and appoint members of the judiciary. Critics have said the changes will completely do away with the separation of powers.

Over 2,000 people were killed including at least 300 civilians during military operations in the Turkey’s Kurdish region since the end of the “peace process” with the PKK in 2015, according to a report by the UN Human Rights Office.

Ankara has been accused of targeting criticism and not terrorism by the UN.