It is time for peace, not reckoning, PM says at first meeting with wise men

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who on Thursday met for the first time with the members of the wise men commission tasked with explaining the ongoing settlement process with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to the public and promoting the negotiations, has said now is the time for peace, not reckoning.

The meeting took place at 6:00 p.m. in the prime minister's office at the historic Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc on Wednesday announced a list of “wise men,” several weeks after the government first announced plans to set up such a commission made up of intellectuals and well-liked public figures.

“The task and mission is more significant than how the list of the wise men was formed, and who took a place within the commission,” Erdogan said in an address to the wise men at his first meeting with them at Dolmabahce.

The formation of 'wise men' list sparked debates in the media and public. Erdogan stated that the common aim of all people within the commission is the solution of the Kurdish conflict.

He noted that there is no legitimate reason for being indifferent to the most daunting problem of Turkey at this critical juncture. “Those who are not part of the solution but are part of the problem cannot weaken our decisions with their criticism,” he said.

Erdogan recalled the tremendous human losses from the terrorist problem over the past three decades and said the ensuing conflict has posed great threats to peace and stability in Turkey and to its influence in the region.

According to Erdogan, those who oppose a settlement of the Kurdish dispute only want the deaths to continue. “This mentality is neither humanistic nor conscientious,” he declared.

The prime minister lamented that his government has been left alone, apart from the strong backing of the public, during the process, stressing that he cannot accept any excuse of those who have social and political power but have refused to actively take part in the settlement process.

He thanked those who accepted their nominations in the commission in a bid to help solve the problem.

The commission is made up of groups organized on a regional basis and will be active in seven regions across the country, but its duties are not yet clear. There will be a chairman, a deputy chairman and a secretary for each region's group of wise people. On Tuesday, while mystery still shrouded the identities of the government's list of wise people, Erdogan said, “We will listen to the views and suggestions of the people that are part of this delegation, consult with them and they will organize some events in [the country's] regions and get together with our citizens and local public opinion leaders.”

During his speech at the first meeting, Erdogan said those who engaged in inhumane treatment -- an indirect reference to mistreatment of Kurdish prisoners in military prisons following the 1980 military coup -- are as guilty as those who have resorted to arms and separatist terrorist activities. Fascism has done more damage [to Turkey] than terrorism, he said.

Turkish prime minister pointed out that Turkey could reach a full-fledged democracy with defeating terrorism.

To the policies of his government regarding the southeastern and eastern region, the government continued to bring services to the East in defiance of warnings from those who suggested that any investment in the region would mean nothing as long as the armed clashes continued, the prime minister stated.

He reiterated his determination that southeastern province of Diyarbakir will “have what Istanbul has.”

“Could you believe that an airport would be built in the southeastern and eastern provinces of Hakkari and Igdir 10 years ago? The amount of investment made in the region [during the AK Party's administration] reached $40 billion over the past 10 years,” Erdogan said of his government's policies to address the region's economic and social problems over the past decade. “When we came to power, we removed the Law of Emergency (OHAL) [in place until 2002 in the southeastern region following the military coup in 1980]. We removed State Security Courts (DGM) and have launched efforts to heal the woes of the people in both moral and material terms.”

In a speech on March 23, Erdogan defined the role of the commission, saying they will be conducting a “psychological operation,” indicating the wise people will act as public relations agents for the process. Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara on March 23, “It is important to prepare the public for this and social perceptions should be created by the wise men,” adding that only public acceptance can fend off shows of nationalism. The commission's mandate is “like the old phrase, ‘psychological operations',” he said, referring to a method used by coup plotters in the Turkish military to manipulate public opinion through social campaigns. The military reference associated with junta plans was found to be vexing by many observers.