In late December, the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led Turkish government announced that it would initiate investigations against at least 550 Istanbul municipal employees suspected of links to terrorism. One of them, Sevtap Ayman, has now resigned from her post because, after months of mobbing by pro-government outlets, she says her life is in danger.
On Dec. 26, 2021, Turkey’s Interior Ministry announced that it had opened investigations into these hundreds of employees for links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), and the Marxist–Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), all of which the Turkish government considers terrorist organizations. The ministry also announced some employees were suspected links with the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The Istanbul municipality has been the target of government ire since the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) captured Turkey’s largest city from the ruling AKP in June 2019 local elections. The city’s mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, has become a scapegoat for Erdogan’s supporters and has engaged in public debate with the President and his allies.
The announcement of terrorism investigations came after Interior Minister said publicly that of the 33,000 people employed by the CHP in Istanbul, the records of 12,000 had been analyzed for potential links to terrorism.
After the investigations were launched, many of those the government said were terrorists were mobbed by pro-government supporters in the press and on social media. In pro-government daily Sabah, Ayman was called a terrorist and columnists said she was receiving instructions from Kandil, the main base of the PKK. Mayor İmamoğlu was similarly linked to the PKK.
Ayman is Kurdish, but terrorism charges are often used in the current administration to target and silence dissent across political and cultural divides.
In a resignation letter, Ayman said this mobbing ruined her life. She was working for the Directorate of Village Heads (muhtars), having formally been a private school teacher. She says that she needs the work to provide for her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, but that the threat to her life was too extreme to carry on.
Ayman says her “right to live and work” was taken away from her.
“My basic 'citizenship' rights, such as working, caring for, and raising my child in safety have been disregarded and my life has been put at risk,” she said. “As a citizen, a Kurd, a woman, and a mother, my right to live and work in peace and security in this country has been taken away from me.”
She said she had no choice to resign in order to keep her and her daughter safe.
“I am resigning from my position at the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in order to prevent further targeting of myself, my daughter, and my family. I am resigning for their safety,” she wrote.