Eighty-four of 104 retired admirals into whom an investigation was launched after they openly criticized a canal project supported by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a country where the hint of military insubordination raises the specter of past coups, have been summoned by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to testify, Turkish media reported on Thursday.
In early April 14 of the retired admirals were briefly detained on charges of “using force and violence in an attempt to overturn the constitutional order” as part of a probe into a statement that criticizes the proposed Kanal İstanbul as well as a debate over the possibility of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Montreux Convention.
The official approval in March 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.
Six more were summoned to testify in light of the statements of the 14 suspects in mid-April, and they were also released by a criminal court of peace in Ankara soon after giving their statements at the Ankara Police Department.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday summoned the remaining 84 subjects of the investigation to testify for signing a declaration to express their concerns 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,” the retired admirals said in the declaration.
Erdoğan was given the power 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 that granted him vast powers.
What made the admirals anxious was a landmark move by Erdoğan in March to withdraw Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women.