Ambiguity prevails over establishment of wise men commission

25 March 2013 /FATMA DİŞLİ ZIBAK, İSTANBUL – Turkey is debating the establishment of a “wise men” commission to monitor or manage the ongoing peace process with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), yet many issues regarding this commission, such as its composition, mission and legal status, remain ambiguous.

 In remarks he made in the central province of Eskişehir on Saturday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is working to determine a list of so-called wise men, or experts, adding that such a commission will play a role in preparing the society for peace.

“We can establish groups of seven. These groups may include figures from the worlds of academics, business, civil society and media,” he said. Following Erdoğan’s remarks, some media outlets released the possible names of the members of the wise men commission, which has sparked a flurry of debates among the society and opposition parties about the nascent advisory body.

The establishment of such a commission has come to the nation’s agenda thanks to talks the AK Party government has been holding with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in order to resolve the country’s longstanding Kurdish and terrorism problems. In a historic announcement last week, Öcalan called on PKK militants to declare a cease fire and withdraw from Turkey. The wise men commission is expected in particular to play a role in monitoring the withdrawal process of the PKK militants from Turkey.

Vahap Coşkun, a professor at Dicle University Law School, was included as one of the members in the advisory group by some media reports. Although he said he has not heard formal word that he will be included among the wise men, he shared his views about the speculation over the commission. Coşkun said although there is not yet any definite information about the members of the group nor its definition of its duties, he expects it will have two important goals related to the peace process. “One mission is to serve as a monitoring mechanism during the withdrawal of PKK militants from Turkish soil and the other to inform society about the peace process to gather support for it,” Coşkun told Today’s Zaman. With regards to the members of the commission, he said there are some international standards to determine membership in the group. “Commission members should have extensive knowledge about the [Kurdish] problem and should be well-respected,” he said, adding that if both sides of the negotiation, the AK Party and the PKK, place importance on the commission it will positively influence the course of the peace process.

According to Coşkun, the government should seek the views of opposition parties concerning the wise men commission; however, if the opposition parties do not want to contribute, their support is not obligatory for its establishment.

In remarks at a news conference on Monday, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Faruk Loğoğlu raised objections to the wise men commission planned by the government, saying that this commission has nothing to do with a similar proposal made earlier by his party. Loğoğlu claimed that the wise men commission proposed by the AK Party will serve the AK Party government itself while the one proposed by the CHP would serve the Parliament. He said his party sees a commission made up of 12 members, three of which are proposed by each of the four political parties in the Parliament. “We will accept anything that will serve the interests of Turkey, but we can do this only when we things are positive,” declared Loğoğlu. There were also comments from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) about the wise men commission on Monday. The MHP is opposed to the peace process and describes it as a “betrayal” to the country.

The party’s deputy chairman, Oktay Öztürk, said on Monday that the most important thing about the wise men commission will be on whose behalf they are to make decisions and whether the decisions they make will be approved by the nation.

“We first will see whether they are actually men, then who determines whether they are wise or not,” he said at a news conference at the Parliament. According to Cafer Solgun, a Kurdish intellectual, a wise men commission could play a more important role than expected in the management of the peace process. “Considering the fact that there is certain distrust of politicians in the society and politicians have many times been involved in bitter rhetorical battles against each other, a wise men commission could play a mediating role in the peace process and could raise confidence among the public,” Solgun noted.

He said the job of such a commission will not only be limited to monitoring the withdrawal of the PKK terrorists from Turkey and ensuring no executions ocur as have in the past, but that it will also play a role in the process after the withdrawal to ensure that they lay down their weapons. When asked about the characteristics of the possible members of this commission, he said they should be independent and free from political affiliations and should be known for their promotion of societal peace. Solgun said the members of the wise men commission should also have concrete information about the Kurdish problem and its consequences, and that their knowledge on the issue should not be limited to what it is written in books. With regards to the legal status of the advisory body, he said that although this is something the government will decide, he sees no need for a specific law to govern the group.