Wise men versus unwise nationalism

Wise men versus unwise nationalism

A recurrent theme in the Turkish media these days is the commission of “wise people.” These are some 63 names chosen by the government as supporters of the “peace process” between the state and its longtime enemy, the armed and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). (In fact, they were called “wise men” in the beginning, but were renamed as “wise people,” because they include women, too.) They will go from city to city, from conference to conference, to inform the public about the need for a farewell to arms.

But who are they? Most of them are journalists, academics, artists or civil society leaders. Most of them also seem to come from either the “conservative” or the “liberal” camps in Turkish politics. Some of them are supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), others are not. The common denominator, I guess, is that they all support the “peace process.”

In fact, it would be better if this commission were given the job of most other “wise men” committees in the world: to act as a neutral arbiter between the government and the terrorist organization it needs to talk. With their current job definition, however, they risk looking like a propaganda team for the government’s peace initiative. (As I always say, there is the right way, the wrong way, and the Turkish way. This is a peace initiative, the Turkish way.)

Yet there are bigger problems that the committee of “wise people” will face: the nationalist opposition which condemns them as traitors. Spokesmen for not just the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) but also the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have angrily bashed them as traitors who are selling out their country. (So much for the “new CHP” that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was supposed to create. Once a CHP, as I always say, always a CHP: bigoted, parochial and incompetent.)

An even angrier crowd who call themselves “GençTürk” (Young Turk) went to the Istanbul courthouse this week to sue the “wise people” for “high treason” and “supporting terrorism.” With posters in their hands saying, “We are all Atatürk,” they posed for the cameras and seriously argued that those who want to help end Turkey’s 30-year-long civil war are actually “terrorists.”

The attitude of such hardcore “Atatürkist” groups, and their representatives in the media, make it obvious that the “peace process” will move on despite Kemalism. Add to that the nationalists of the MHP and even some figures from the center-right who joined the anti-peace camp. You end up having a very large chunk of society who not only oppose peace, but also see it as an evil plot against Turkey.

This creates an interesting alliance on the other side: between the AKP and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the de facto political arm of the PKK. These two parties have not only partnered for peace, but there is a chance that they might work together for the new Constitution. If that really happens, the two main victims of the old system, conservative Muslims and the Kurds, will be co-instituting the new system. What an irony of history.

At this point, perhaps the committee of wise people can help by building a larger support for the peace process, by persuading at least some voters of the CHP and even the MHP. I know that it is really hard to convince these people. But it is still better than letting some 40 percent of society think that Turkey is heading to doomsday.