Dozens of former Turkish lawmakers issued a statement on Monday in support of another statement from retired admirals who criticized a canal project in Istanbul as well as a debate over the possibility of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Montreux Convention, the Sözcü daily reported.
The statement, signed by 104 retired admirals, unleashed a wave of criticism in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which went so far as to accuse the admirals of attempting to stage a coup. An investigation has been launched into the admirals, with 10 of them detained on Monday on charges of using “force and violence” to overturn the constitutional order.
“Recently, the opening of the Montreux Convention to debate within the scope of the authority to withdraw from international treaties and the Kanal İstanbul project is a cause for concern,” the admirals said in their statement.
The 122 former lawmakers, who served in the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), voiced similar concerns with the retired admirals and said opening the Montreux Convention to debate and insisting on plans to go ahead with the Canal İstanbul project were unacceptable.
The former lawmakers also said they condemned the efforts to accuse the retired admirals of attempting to stage a coup by means of their statement, adding that the admirals just exercised their rights and voiced their views on an issue that interests the entire nation.
“While there are merciless efforts aimed at destroying the founding principles of the Turkish Republic and its institutions, we regret the accusation of individuals who exercised their right to freedom of expression of staging a coup,” said the former deputies.
The official approval last month of plans to develop a 45-kilometer (28-mile) shipping lane in İstanbul comparable to the Panama or Suez canals has opened up debate about Turkey’s commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention.
The pact is aimed at demilitarizing the Black Sea by setting strict commercial and naval rules on passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits leading to the Mediterranean.
Kanal İstanbul, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dubbed his “crazy project,” will bisect the European side of İstanbul to connect the Black Sea to the Marmara and Mediterranean seas. It is scheduled to be completed by 2023; however, there is widespread public opposition to its construction due to environmental and financial concerns.
Erdoğan and the AKP government claim the channel is necessary for the safety of İstanbul’s Bosporus Strait, which sees busy marine traffic; however, opponents of the project say it is aimed at generating money for pro-AKP circles.
Erdoğan’s proposed 75 billion lira ($9.8 billion) alternative to the Bosporus and Dardanelles raises questions on whether existing agreements would apply to the new route.
Last month, Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop said the president “could” withdraw from the convention.
“He has the power,” he told the HaberTürk TV channel on March 24. “But there is a difference between possible and probable.”
Erdoğan received the authority to pull Turkey out of treaties without parliament’s approval in 2018 when he was elected for a second term as president, but this time under a presidential system of governance, which granted him vast powers.