On 17 August, DPI held an online roundtable meeting entitled ‘Current Situation in Turkey: The Role of Local Government Leaders in Responding to COVID-19 and their Post-Pandemic Strategy’. This meeting hosted Ayhan Bilgen, co-Mayor of the Municipality of Kars from The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), to discuss the political, economic, and social impacts of COVID-19 on Kars, as an HDP run municipality, as well as the role of the local administration in strengthening democratisation and conflict resolution.
This meeting brought together a diverse group of participants from Turkey, including academics, journalists, lawyers, politicians, representatives from civil society, members of Wise Persons Committee (WPC).
Ayhan Bilgen discussed the political, social, and economic impact of the pandemic on Kars. Bilgen explained that measures have been put in place to assist women, who due to lockdown have been more vulnerable to domestic abuse, and to combat unemployment during the pandemic. Measures in the agricultural sector, which was greatly affected by lockdown, have also been taken to boost the economy.
Highlighting the multicultural and multi-ethnic composition of Kars province and the city’s tradition of cooperation, Bilgen talked about the diverse composition of the City Council where five different political parties are represented. Since there is no absolute majority in the Council, different parties are forced to work together and pass resolutions. Bilgen emphasised that this can be done mainly because the Council prioritises the needs of the city, rather than those of the party. Though ethnic identity plays a determining factor in how people vote on local levels, Bilgen argued that this behaviour should change.
The online roundtables form part of a larger series of activities in the context of the project ‘Supporting inclusive dialogue at a challenging time in Turkey’, supported by the EU and the Norwegian and Irish governments.