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Coup threat in Turkey. Dozen admirals detained over critics of Istanbul Canal Project

103 retired admirals issued a statement condemning the “Islamization” of the Turkish Armed Forces and the recent public debate on Turkey’s withdrawal from the Montreux Treaty for the Straits.

On April 5, Turkey detained 10 retired admirals after a letter signed that they had signed warned against a possible threat to a treaty governing the use of Turkey’s key waterways.

It is the first time since the coup attempt in July 2016 that Turkish officers, even retired ones, have attempted to intervene in the country’s political developments, evoking memories of the military movements of the past.

The retired admirals express in their text their concern about the opening of the debate on the Montreux Treaty and at the same time, on the occasion of the presence of a senior naval officer at the premises of an Islamic fraternity with Islamic outfit.

They express their opposition and condemn “the efforts to show the Turkish Armed Forces and the Navy that they are moving away from the path set by Kemal Ataturk” and add:

“Otherwise, the Turkish Republic may face the danger and threat of turbulent and vital events for its survival, examples of which exist in history.”

In their announcement, the 103 retired admirals point out, among other things:

“The Turkish Straits are one of the most important sea routes in the world and their status has been governed by international treaties throughout history. The last of these conditions, that of Montreux , which best protects Turkey’s rights, is not only a treaty for transit and crossing the Turkish Strait, but a great diplomatic victory for Turkey, with which it regained its full sovereignty in Istanbul, Canakkale, the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Straits, supplementing the Treaty of Lausanne.

The Treaty of Montreux is a key document for the security of the Black Sea countries and has turned the Black Sea into a sea of ​​peace. Montreux is a contract that, in the event of war, protects Turkey from being inadvertently entered into by one of the warring parties. Montreux allowed Turkey to maintain its neutrality during World War II. For these and similar reasons, we believe that should be avoid any verbal reference and action that would open the debate for the Montreux Treaty, which is important for Turkey’s survival.”

They also refer to the visit of the current Commander of the Navy Procurement, Captain Mehmet Sarı, to an Islamic fraternity, putting on his uniform the characteristic robe and the corresponding head covering.

“On the other hand, some unacceptable images, news and discussions published in the press and on social media have been a source of deep sorrow for those of us who have dedicated our lives to this profession. In the last years, the Turkish Armed Forces, and especially our Navy, have been deliberately attacked by the FETO (the movement of self- proclaimed preacher Fethullah Gulen), who have sacrificed their valuable leaders in these treacherous conspiracies.

“The most important lesson to be learned from these conspiracies is the urgent need for the Turkish Armed Forces to uphold the fundamental values ​​of the Constitution, which cannot be changed and which cannot be proposed for change,” they said.

The text signed by the 103 retired admirals caused political unrest in Ankara and the furious reaction of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The spokesman of the Turkish president, Fahrettin Altun, in a post on Twitter, said about the Fifth Column and calls on the “fans” of the coups “to stay where they are”.

“So what? Some retired admirals gathered and issued a “statement”. The “Fifth Columnists” were immediately excited. Sit down. That Turkey belongs to the past! This nation proved how it treats the supporters of the July 15th coup. Know your limits! Who do you think you are? By what right do you point the finger at the legal representatives of the people’s will? Turkey is a state governed by the rule of law. Do not forget this. Those who want it under guardianship will not harm our democracy. “The repressed subordinates of the foreign forces will not stop the course of Turkey that is becoming stronger.” Erdogan’s spokesman wrote in a sharp and angry style.

In a similar vein, the speaker of the National Assembly, Mustafa Şentop, who was the one who revived the debate on Turkey’s withdrawal from the Montreux Treaty, wrote on Twitter:

“On July 15, our heroic nation buried not only the coup plotters of FETO (Gulenists), but also all those who flirt with the idea of ​​the coup and are powered by the same source. It is one thing to express an opinion and another to publish an announcement that foreshadows a coup.”

The representative of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ömer Çelik, condemned the “103” initiative:

“It is unacceptable for some retired admirals to publish a statement in a manner and style reminiscent of other times. It is obvious in our political life what this way and style corresponds to. What they did is an insult to both the popular will and the uniform they once wore. It is also a proof that the logic that a guardianship regime wants is still alive”.

He adds:

“We condemn this primitive language that is directed against the elected government.” Besides, the targeting of the commander-in-chief (Ed: President Erdogan) while he is fighting in the Blue Homeland, is met with a specific entry in the military terminology”.

The statement on Turkey’s withdrawal from the Treaty

As a shock fell last week, the president of the Turkish National Assembly and confidant of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mustafa Sentop, released a statement that Ankara may withdraw from the Treaty of Montreux, which regulates the freedom of navigation in the Straits of Dardanelles and Bosporus.

In an interview with Haberturk a few days ago, Mr. Sentop was asked to comment on the reactions to the withdrawal of Turkey’s signature from the Istanbul Convention (International Agreement on the Prevention of Violence against Women), a decision by the Turkish government which has received strong criticism inside and outside the country, mainly from the European Union.

In an attempt to justify Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision, the Turkish politician said that

“… the President of the Republic may, by decree, withdraw from the Montreux Treaty, as he also withdrew from the Istanbul Convention.”

What the Montreux Treaty provides

This Treaty in conjunction with that of Lausanne are considered the international founding acts of the Turkish Republic and the conditions under which the full independence of the country was secured, including the full sovereignty of the Turkish state in the Straits.

The Treaty of Montreux also directly concerns Greece, as it affects the status of the Greek islands of the northeastern Aegean and is a party to this treaty.

The Treaty of Montreux, or the Treaty on the Status of the Straits, was signed on July 20th 1936 in the Swiss city of Montreux.

It gave Turkey full control of the Straits, giving it the right to maintain military forces there, abolishing the relevant restrictions of the earlier Lausanne Treaty of 1923.

It also ensured free navigation by civilian ships in peacetime.

It also allows the passage of warships of the Black Sea countries with one week notice and under certain conditions of displacement, size and armament.

It does, however, significantly restrict the passage of non-Black Sea warships by setting limits on their displacement and the weapons they carry, and also imposes a transit warning.

The Contracting Parties are Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, the Soviet Union, Turkey, Australia, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia.

The “storm” of reactions is not only from the opposition Kemalists, but also political allies who have not yet stood against Erdogan, such as retired Admiral Cem Gurdeniz, one of the inspirers of the “Blue Homeland” theory.

Critics of Shedop’s statements argue that if Turkey repeals the Montreux Treaty, it will face the 1920 Treaty of Sevres (a timeless “nightmare” for Turkey, as it awakens fears of partition).

They also claim that if the provisions of the Montreux Treaty are repealed, the US fleet will have a permanent presence in the Black Sea without any restrictions on the displacement of warships and their equipment.

Not a surprise

However, this is not the first time that such a statement has been heard from Turks, like that of Mr. Sentop. In December 2019, on the occasion of the announcement for the construction of the Istanbul Canal (Kanal Istanbul) promoted by Recep Tayyip Erdogan by the Turkish presidency, a statement was issued expressing similar views:

“In the Straits with the Montreux Treaty we have no right and the ships pass as they wish. Think that they use the Straits and we gain nothing. But with Kanal Istanbul there will be rights as in the Suez Canal. We will move this plan forward.”

Kanal Istanbul is one of the mega-projects that Mr. Erdogan envisions in recent years, with the completion of which he plans to change the geostrategy of the Straits, bypassing the Bosphorus by opening a canal to the west of Istanbul, between Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.