A joint statement of 126 retired ambassadors, a previously published text that opposed the possibility of annulment of the 1936 Montreux Convention on the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, popped up in Turkey’s agenda. Then came the joint declaration of 103 retired admirals. The government did not respond strongly to the statement of the retired ambassadors. It was just Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop, who led way to the debate on the Montreaux Convention and the straits with his remarks, reacted to it, saying that his words on annulling the conversion were misunderstood and he meant just the opposite. “Stating your opinion is one thing, and releasing a declaration with coup implications is another thing,” he said.
However, upon the declaration of the retired admirals, the Montreux debate turned into a regime debate, a coup debate. “Expressing thoughts is one thing, publishing a coup-related statement is another,” Şentop said.
The Presidency, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials, the parliament speaker and the cabinet ministers were irked by the declaration by the former soldiers. The retired officers were accused of putschism and an investigation was launched into the issue.
Why did the Montreux debate and the statement of retired admirals anger President Tayyip Erdoğan and the government? We will look for answers to this.
Why so angry?
Is it because the admirals said the basic principles of the Constitution –secularism in particular– should not be changed? Is it because they implicitly reacted to Rear Admiral Mehmet Sarı who attended an Islamic cult meeting in his uniform without naming him? Is the because they condemned efforts to take Turkey off the track of modernization that the founding father of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, had set as a goal. efforts to draw away from the contemporary flying to Turkey? Probably, the fact that the Montreux debate was included in the same text with the admiral attending a cult meeting in uniform was off the limit. The diplomats’ statement was limited to the Montreux debate.
Or else, the government cannot be anxious that the retired admirals would be involved in a coup attempt like the July 15, 2016 attempt, can it? Or is it looking for an opportunity to reverse a vote loss by reminding citizens of a “coup threat?” In any case, now we are dragged into yet another unnecessary debate.
The government implies that the Gülenist “FETÖ” is behind the statement. However, most of the retired navy officers who signed the statement were figures who were forced to retire due to cases and convictions in Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup cases in the hands of Fethullah Gülenist judges and prosecutors. While those cases were continuing, all of the AKP politicians who accuse them of being Gülenists today were praising the Gülenist.
More interestingly, most of the signatories have supported Erdogan’s Eastern Mediterranean policy, which he followed until the latest EU Summit.
And what is this allergy to Montreux about?
The Montreux Convention and the 1924 Treaty of Lausanne are the two founding treaties of modern Turkey. The Montreux Convention is the basis of Turkey’s maritime sovereignty rights. The debate over the convention heated up in 2019, when the government declared the plans to build Kanal Istanbul, an artificial waterway to connect the Black Sea and the inner Marmara Sea via a canal north of Istanbul.
The recent debate restarted with remarks by Parliament Speaker Şentop while responding to a question on Erdoğan’s decision to treat from the Istanbul Convention that introduces measures to protect women from violence. Şentop later said that his remarks were only on the ground of technical judiciary, but stirred the debate, which evolved today into talks on coup attempt in terms of public perception.
Presumably, President Erdogan will not try to retreat from the Montreux Convention just to show what he is capable of and prove to the retired bureaucrats their limits. Even most of the AKP members, who are angry at the retired soldiers, emphasize their loyalty to the Lausanne and Montreux agreements.
This issue shifts the current agenda from the pandemic and the economy to fields that the AKP likes.
New Constitution overtures
It is known that the Montreux Convention has always disturbed the United States, as it wants to dispatch more and bigger warships against Russia in the Black Sea.
The debate in 2019 started when the President said while promoting Kanal Istanbul that “Montreux does not bring us transition money, it is not clear what it brings.” Along with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the AKP’b election ally, the nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli had reacted to Erdoğan’s words at the time. “Kanal Istanbul is Turkey’s internal issue as long as it does not violate Montreaux,” said Alexei Yerkhov, the Russian ambassador to Ankara, at the time. And finally, Erdoğan corrected his works, saying that the canal had nothing to do with the Montreux Convention.
The issue is not limited to domestic politics but it also concerns relations with the U.S., the EU and Russia, and it is also about the sovereign rights of Turkey.
Erdoğan is likely to link this debate to the “unchangeable” articles of the 1982 Constitution that was drafted after the Sep. 12, 1980 coup, and a need for a new charter. It is difficult to predict whether it will bring results.
But the political debate on the issues of Turkey’s founding treaties is not right, regardless of who triggers it.