Turkey detained 10 retired admirals for signing a statement supporting an 85-year-old maritime accord, and President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday the document went beyond freedom of expression and implied a coup.
The statement, signed by more than a hundred former high-ranking navy personnel, voiced concern that the Montreux Convention could be debated or abandoned after having played an important role in Turkey’s security and past neutrality.
Government officials responded by accusing them of conspiring against the constitutional order, and Erdogan said the statement was unacceptable given Turkey’s history of military coups.
“The duty of retired admirals is… not publishing statements about a political debate that includes an implication of a coup,” Erdogan told ministers and AK Party members.
The military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and, with a statement by the National Security Council, pressured the first Islamist-led government out of power in 1997. Another coup was attempted in 2016.
“In a country that has a history full of coups and statements, it is unacceptable for 104 retired admirals to attempt such an endeavor,” Erdogan said, adding Turkey remained committed to the accord but could review it in the future.
The main opposition party said the government sought to distract from more critical issues, including a shock 12% lira depreciation two weeks ago, and record daily coronavirus cases. Erdogan blamed the opposition for the statement.
Montreux, signed in 1936, gives Turkey control over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits within its borders, and during peacetime guarantees access for civilian vessels. It also limits access of naval warships and governs foreign cargo ships.
The retired admirals defended the accord as strategically important for security, given Erdogan’s authority to withdraw from such pacts. Last month, the president suddenly ditched an international accord meant to prevent violence against women.
Prosecutors accuse the admirals of conspiring against state security, news website Haberturk said. State news agency Anadolu said four other suspects were called to report to police within three days as part of the probe.
The statement came as the government moves forward with plans to construct a massive canal connecting the Black Sea north of Istanbul to the Sea of Marmara to the south, parallel to the Bosphorus.
A Turkish official has said Montreux would not cover the canal.
The secularist armed forces were once the dominant force in Turkey but Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party have eroded their influence since coming to power in 2002.