What should wise people do for the peace process?

The notion of wise people/wise men was originally brought forward by Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who is serving his life sentence in prison on Imrali Island.

When he talked about the wise people, Ocalan was referring to a body that would act as a kind of mediator that would facilitate the negations between the PKK and the government. He recently talked about this group of wise people in the context of the PKK's withdrawal from Turkey. The wise people were to observe this withdrawal process, according to Ocalan.

However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out with a completely different idea. He said the wise people would explain the peace process to the people in Turkey. As far as I can understand, in his mind they will serve as a kind of public relations group for the process. And as of today, we have a list of 63 people. They are academics, journalists, singers, movie stars, human rights activists and intellectuals. I can see that they come from all different ideologies and worldviews. There are liberals, socialists, conservatives, pious Muslims, non-Muslims and so forth in the regional groups. Indeed, I would reject very few of them; most of them are people whom I trust and I believe they are capable of being the wise people of the peace process.

The government is under fierce fire from the nationalist groups in Turkey because of the peace process and there are some dangerous signs coming from different parts of the country. In a recent public gathering, followers of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chanted slogans that sent threatening messages to the government. Their slogan “Tell us to hit, we shall; tell us to die, we shall!” was answered by MHP leader Devlet Bahceli with, “The time will come for that, too.” Given the violent history of this movement, we can say there may be some difficult days ahead for the peace process in Turkey.

In this sense, for the government it may be quite a wise thing to recruit some wise people who are respected and trusted in society to talk about the peace process and to help the government to soften reactions in some segments of society. So, in this way the wise people will act as a kind of shield for the government, absorbing anger and resolving resentment that will come out as the peace process moves forward.

However, as I said in my previous columns, I am quite doubtful about whether the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has any comprehensive peace plan in mind that addresses different aspects of this process, from recognizing cultural rights to a demobilizing plan for the PKK. I think it would be wiser for everyone concerned if these wise people try to broaden their mandate and turn themselves into a group of people who fill all the gaps and the vacuum left by the government. I think they should act as a kind of mediator in the advanced stages of the peace negotiations, they should urge the government to make necessary reforms in recognition of cultural and linguistic rights of the Kurds, they should observe the disarming and demobilization of the PKK and they should develop concrete suggestions for every phase where problems arise.

The first signs are a little discouraging. For example, I heard that the government did all the internal division of labor for these groups. It was the government who selected the chair, deputy chair and the secretary for each of the seven groups. If you interfere in the group dynamics that much, you cannot get any creative work from them. However, as I said, I have confidence in many of the people who were chosen and I believe they will use their own initiative to promote the peace process wisely.