Turkey to move provincial capitals in mainly Kurdish region

Buildings which were damaged during the security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants, are pictured in Nusaybin, a district of Turkey's southeastern province of Mardin on the Syrian border, Turkey, July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s parliament will vote to move the capitals of two mainly Kurdish provinces, according to draft legislation submitted on Tuesday, in an apparent effort to tighten strategic control over the restive southeastern region.

Sections of the two new capitals were demolished in fighting earlier this year between Turkish troops and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but these cities are considered more easily defendable than the more remote old capitals.

Thousands of people have been killed in fighting since a ceasefire with the militants collapsed a year ago.

The opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has Kurdish roots, won all seven parliamentary seats in the area in last November’s general election. “This suppresses identities and is an act of revenge,” HDP lawmaker Selma Irmak tweeted.

The law would move the administrative capital of Hakkari province from the mountain town of Hakkari, near the Iraqi and Iranian borders, to the larger town of Yuksekova on a nearby plain. It would also change Hakkari’s name to Colemerik, a corruption of its older Kurdish name Colemerg.

The province would renamed Yuksekova, after its new capital, according to a copy of the bill drawn up by the ruling AK Party.

Just to the west, Sirnak province would shift its capital from the mountain town of Sirnak to the plains city of Cizre near the Syrian border. The province’s name would change from Sirnak to Cizre and Sirnak town be renamed Nuh.

The PKK launched its insurgency in Hakkari province in 1984 and over 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have died in the fighting since then. It first wanted an independent homeland for Turkey’s estimated 15 million Kurds but has scaled that back to more political rights for the region.

Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by David Dolan and Tom Heneghan