Strategic strait at issue in Turkish naval purge
Turkish prosecutors on April 5 issued arrest warrants for 10 retired senior navy officers a day after 104 officers released a letter defending the Montreux Doctrine. The Montreux Doctrine is an agreement made in 1936 concerning critical waterways that run through Turkey, most notably the straits of the Bosphorus (also known as Strait of Istanbul) and the Dardanelles. The terms of the international convention provide that Turkey may control the straits, but must permit civilian vessels to pass through the waterways in times of peace. In addition, the treaty regulates passage of warships and foreign cargo ships on the waters. The treaty was designed to "prevent the militarization of the Black Sea."
The open letter was also critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Istanbul Canal project, a plan to construct a waterway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, running parallel to the Bosphorus Strait. Although Erdoğan announced plans for the new canal in 2011, they were not confirmed until last month, due in part to the economic downturn the country took in 2018. Officials insist that the new canal would not be subject to the Montreux Doctrine.
The admirals' letter was met with "fury" by Erdoğan, who said that the timing and nature of the letter demonstrated that the admirals had ulterior motives. Turkey has had a history of military coups, including an attempted overthrow of Erdoğan in 2016, and the Turkish president said that the letter released April 4 was reminiscent of that history, and that it was "unacceptable for 104 retired admirals to attempt such an endeavor."
Erdoğan also stated that Turkey is committed to remaining in the Montreux treaty but stressed that the attempt to link construction of the new canal to the treaty is "fundamentally misguided." He stated, "While easing its heavy maritime load in the Bosphorus thanks to Canal Istanbul, Turkey will also get an alternative under its full sovereignty outside the limitations of Montreux. This is [part of] our struggle for sovereignty."
According to the statement released by the retired naval officers:
Montreux provided Turkey the possibility to maintain its neutrality during the second world war. We are of the opinion that there is a need to avoid any statements and actions that could cause the Montreux convention, an important treaty in terms of Turkey's survival, to be brought up for discussion.
The arrested navy officials are being investigated to determine whether they conspired to commit "a crime against the security of the state and the constitutional order."
From Jurist, April 5. Used with permission.