Turkish authorities have arrested 10 retired navy commanders, who warned of a potential threat to an international treaty governing the use of strategic waterways in Turkey.
The former navy officers are accused of threatening the Turkish constitutional order.
In a letter signed by more than 100 retired admirals, the senior officers had warned of Turkey’s withdrawal from the 1936 International Montreux Convention, which governs maritime traffic across the Bosphorus Strait.
The signatories to the letter expressed their “concern” about opening the debate on the Montreux Treaty, which they described as an agreement that “best protects Turkish interests.”
The Montreux Convention guarantees free passage through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles for civilian ships in times of peace and war.
And it regulates the use of the straits for military ships coming from countries not bordering the Black Sea.
The Turkish NTV television station reported that the arrested senior officers are accused of “using force and violence to get rid of the constitutional order.”
On Sunday, the Public Prosecutor launched an investigation into the statement of retired admirals on suspicion of “an agreement to commit a crime against state security and the constitutional order.”
The officers ’warning came after the government announced its intention to build a new canal bypassing the Bosphorus to ease congestion and not subject to the agreement.
The government’s approval last month of plans to develop a shipping canal in Istanbul, similar to the Panama or Suez canals, known as “Istanbul Canal”, which sparked controversy over the Montreux Agreement.
The government said that the officers’ message was a blatant interference in its work, reminding it of the days of military coups, according to what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said.
The “Istanbul Canal” is the most ambitious project in what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls “crazy projects” that have transformed Turkey’s infrastructure by constructing a number of new airports, bridges, roads and tunnels over the past 18 years.
The importance of the project is due to the fact that the water passage between Europe and Asia through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits in Turkey is blocked by sea traffic, and has witnessed many shipping accidents in recent years.
The sensitivity of the topic of coups d’etat
President Erdoan’s spokesman said that the officers’ letter reminds the government of the days of military coups.
Coups have been a sensitive topic in Turkey since the army, which had long seen itself as the guarantor of the country’s secular constitution, carried out three coups between 1960 and 1980.
There was also an attempt to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016, which was blamed on the followers of the US-based Muslim preacher, Fethullah Gulen, in the army.
What is the response of the officials?
Turkish officials angrily responded to the officers’ letter, apparently saying it was a call for a coup.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mustafa Sentop, said Sunday that “expressing an opinion is one thing, and preparing an advertisement that pushes to the upset is another thing.”
“The admirals should know that our respectable nation and its representatives will never allow this mentality,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said the text “has no purpose other than undermining our democracy.”