Wise men ’task force’ ready for duty to solve Kurdish issue

Wise men ’task force’ ready for duty to solve Kurdish issue

Intellectuals and actors Sibel Eraslan, Lale Mansur, Doğu Ergil, Etyen Mahçupyan (L to R top row) and Can Paker, Hülya Koçyiğit, Beril Dedeoğlu and Cemal Uşşak (L to R bottom row) were selected as wise people. Mahçupyan, Ergil and Dedeoğlu are Today’s Zaman columnists. (Image: Today's Zaman)

April 03, 2013, Wednesday/ 17:04:00/ E. BARIŞ ALTINTAŞ

The government announced its long-awaited list of “wise men” on Wednesday, the members of a seven-region commission tasked with explaining the ongoing settlement process with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to the public and promoting the negotiations.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç 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. There was initial criticism of the name of the commission, with many saying it should be changed to “wise people,” and accusations of sexism continued after the announcement of its members revealed that it comprises 51 men and only 12 women.

The list includes celebrities who are intellectuals, writers and academics as well as singers such as Orhan Gencebay.  

The inequality in gender representation drew swift criticism from women's rights groups. Head of the Women's Initiative for Peace and Academics for Peace Nazan Üstündağ said: “All data from all around the world show that you need at least 50 percent female representation to achieve something. I am really curious what the men that are part of this delegation have to say about this point.”

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. On Tuesday, while mystery still shrouded the identities of the government's list of wise people, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 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.”

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

The newly selected wise people are required to have a meeting with Prime Minister Erdoğan Thursday evening at the prime minister's office at Dolmabahçe Palace. There will be a chairman, a deputy chairman and a secretary for each region's group of wise people.

Some people, such as academic Nur Vergin, journalist Hüseyin Gülerce, journalist Taha Akyol, and pop singer Sezen Aksu, reportedly rejected the offer when they were called by the Prime Ministry. It was apparent from phone conversations Today's Zaman had with some of the wise people that they had been previously informed of the decision and asked whether they would contribute, perhaps with the exception of Professor Baskın Oran, a soft-spoken academic who ran as an independent social democratic candidate in the 2007 general election. Oran told Today's Zaman: “I haven't been officially informed. Nobody called me.” He said he had just heard the news on television.

Oran was not the only confused selectee. Erol Ekici, head of the Federation of the Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK), whose name also appears on the list, said he had not accepted the offer. “I am definitely not on that list. I was surprised to see my name,” he told newspapers.

Those who had been informed however, did not know significantly more. Academic and writer Beril Dedeoğlu, the deputy chairwoman in charge of communicating the settlement process to the Central Anatolian region said: “I can't really say anything at this point. It is too early to say anything. Things will become clear at the Dolmabahçe meeting tomorrow.”

Another wise man, Cemal Uşşak, from the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), also said he didn't have any information about how the commission will work, but he said he hoped it will contribute to the peace efforts. “The presence of such fine people -- of course excluding myself -- showing their support for peace publicly will certainly be an important contribution to peace efforts,” Uşşak told Today's Zaman.

Vahap Coşkun, a faculty member at the Dicle University School of Law, said: “They called me on Saturday. No job description has been provided yet. These details will be cleared up at tomorrow's meeting.”

One of the many unknowns regarding the commission was information on whether the group's members will be paid a salary or afforded any other benefits and perks, and what budget will be used to meet their travel expenses related to commission duties.

Opposition parties were quick to show that they weren't impressed by the list.

Republican People's Party (CHP) spokesperson Haluk Koç said the list was strongly at odds with a list offered earlier in Parliament by the CHP. “This is simply making fun of the nation's hopes for peace.” He said some of the individuals on the list did not deserve to be defined a wise man. “The evaluation is up to the public and those who accepted this duty.”

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has been vehemently against talks with the PKK, was also negative. MHP Deputy Chairman Şefkat Çetin referred to the group as a “team of fools from seven regions, a team of deception.”  

The group will convene for the first time on Thursday in the historic Dolmabahçe Palace in İstanbul under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Erdoğan. The commission, dubbed “wise men,” was formed to liaise with the public while the government has talks with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officers and the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, have been negotiating on İmralı Island since October 2012, with the government saying the primary purpose of the talks is to disarm the PKK.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 and Turkey has lost as many as 50,000 people in its fight against the terrorist group. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.

The full list of the group of wise men is as follows:

Mediterranean region:

1. Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges President Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu (chairman); 2. Actress Lale Mansur (deputy chairwoman); 3. General coordinator of Ekopolitik Tarık Çelenk (secretary); 4. Actor Kadir İnanır; 5. Writer Nihal Bengisu Karaca; 6. Former Kayseri Mayor Şükrü Karatepe; 7. Kurdish intellectual Muhsin Kızılkaya; 8. President of the Human Rights Association Öztürk Türkdoğan; 9. Academic Hüseyin Yayman

Eastern region:

1. Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation President Can Paker (chairman); 2. Writer Sibel Erarslan (deputy chairwoman); 3. Civilian Solidarity Platform President Ayhan Ogan (secretary); 4. Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions President Mahmut Arslan; 5. Journalist Abdurrahman Dilipak; 6. Cem Foundation President İzzettin Doğan; 7. Former deputy Abdurrahman Kurt; 8. Association for Inmates' Families' Solidarity President Zübeyde Teker; 9. Lawyer Mehmet Uçum

Aegean region:

1. Chairman of Turkish polling company KONDA Tarhan Erdem (chairman);  2. Journalist Avni Özgürel (deputy chairman);  3. Doğan Group's Executive Board Chairperson Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındoğan (secretary); 4. Turkish Bar Association President Vedat Ahsen Coşar; 5. Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions President Erol Ekici (although he has said he turned down the offer); 6. Writer Hilal Kaplan; 7. Academic Fuat Keyman; 8. Writer Fehmi Koru; 9. Journalist Baskın Oran

Southeastern region:

1. Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research Director Yılmaz Ensaroğlu (chairman); 2. Lawyer Kezban Hatemi (deputy chairwoman); 3. Former deputy Mehmet Emin Ekmen (secretary); 4. Academic Murat Belge; 5. Academic Fazıl Hüsnü Erdem; 6. Director Yılmaz Erdoğan; 7. Writer Etyen Mahçupyan; 8. Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions President Lami Özgen; 9. Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal

Central Anatolian region:

1. Writer Ahmet Taşgetiren (chairman); 2. Beril Dedeoğlu (deputy chairwoman); 3. Journalists and Writers Foundation Secretary-General Cemal Uşşak (secretary); 4. Academic Vahap Coşkun; 5. Academic Doğu Ergil; 6. Academic Erol Göka; 7. Turkish Confederation of Labor Unions President Mustafa Kumlu; 8. Journalist Fadime Özkan; 9. Head of the '78ers Foundation Celalettin Can

Marmara region:

1. Academic Deniz Ülke Arıboğan (chairwoman); 2. Academic Mithat Sancar (deputy chairman); 3. Academic Levent Korkut (secretary); 4. Historian Mustafa Armağan; 5. Writer Ali Bayramoğlu; 6. Civil Servants' Trade Union Chairman Ahmet Gündoğdu; 7. Theologian Hayrettin Karaman; 8. Artist Hülya Koçyiğit; 9. Academic Yücel Sayman

Black Sea region:

1. Academic Yusuf Şevki Hakyemez (chairman); 2. Academic Vedat Bilgin (deputy chairman); 3. Lawyer Fatma Benli (secretary); 4. Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers President Şemsi Bayraktar; 5. Writer Kürşat Bumin; 6. Writer Oral Çalışlar; 7. Singer Orhan Gencebay; 8. Journalist Yıldıray Oğur; 9. Turkish Tradesmen's and Artisans' Confederation Chairman Bendevi Palandöken

A statement released by the Prime Ministry later in the day said Turkish Bar Association President Vedat Ahsen Coşar was removed from the list after he said he would not be able to attend Thursday’s meeting and that Akit daily Editor-in-Chief Hasan Karakaya would replace him.

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