Turkish prosecutors have summoned six retired admirals and one retired general who were among the signatories of a statement that openly criticized a canal project promoted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
As part of an investigation launched by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the homes of the seven retired officers, who all reside in İstanbul, were searched and digital materials seized. The retired admirals and the general are expected to testify to prosecutors in Ankara next week.
Earlier this week 14 retired admirals who were detained a week ago for releasing the statement were freed under judicial supervision.
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 a debate about Turkey’s commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which 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.
The retired admirals were worried that the new canal’s construction would result in Turkey abandoning the 1936 treaty, angering Russia and losing its neutrality in the volatile region.
“Recently, the opening of the Montreux Convention to debate within the scope of the authority to withdraw from international treaties and the Canal Istanbul project is a cause for concern,” they said in the declaration, which was signed by 104 retired admirals.
Turkish officials reacted angrily to the letter, claiming it appears to be a call for a coup.
President Erdoğan accused the admirals of “hinting at a political coup” by criticizing his plans for a new canal on the Bosporus.
“The duty of retired admirals — 104 of whom came together — is not to publish declarations that hint at a political coup,” Erdoğan said.
“In a country whose past is filled with coups, [another] attempt by a group of retired admirals can never be accepted,” he said after the former commanders criticized his plans for Kanal Istanbul.
The admirals denied claims that they were intending to stage a coup against the government but were only exercising their freedom of expression on a subject that is crucial for Turkey’s future and international interests.