AKP’s electoral decline is evident and mainly due to the poor conditions of the Turkish economy, that some analysts believe is a direct result of the constitutional reforms of 2017 that reduced the division of powers in the Turkish state. A declaration on the Montreaux Convention of 1936 released today the 4th of April 2021 by 103 retired Turkish Admirals and some important infrastructural projects may guide us in understanding what is happening in Ankara.
Where are we?
103 retired Admirals have issued a statement on their fears of Turkey’s “rumoured” withdrawal from the Montreaux Convention. The withdrawal may be decided to cancel Turkey’s obligation to guarantee universal free passage through the straits connecting the Black Sea to Marmara, in order to permit “Istanbul Canal”, once constructed, to be an important source of revenues for the Turkish State. The Canal, now a pharaonic project aimed at allowing a bigger and faster passage of commercial ships, shall receive important international investments. It is strongly wanted by the current Cabinet: regardless of its economic value, it is important as a sign of the “new Turkey” that should arise on the Centenary of the Republic, in 2023.
The fears of the Admirals are related precisely to the fact that passage fees may be required by the Turkish Government only on the preconditions of withdrawing from the Convention.
Their declaration is based on 4 fundamentals:
- The Bosphorus is one of the most important waterways in the world and Montreux best protects Turkey’s rights – the Convention is referred to as a complement to the Treaty of Lausanne and this is very important (see note 1);
- Montreux is the document that guarantees the security of the Black Sea (literally in the text: “it is the agreement that makes of the Black Sea a sea of peace”. Montreux is a Convention that “prevents Turkey from inadvertently entering into any war alongside one of the parties to the conflict” – the reference to the danger of a conflict is central (see note 2);
- Montreux allowed Turkey to maintain its neutrality during World War II (see again note 1).
- Some news published in the press and on social media are a source of “deep sadness” to the signatories of the declaration, who have devoted their lives to the military profession – the reference is to the Istanbul Canal and to the statements on the possibility of Turkey withdrawing from Montreaux;
- The Armed Forces and especially the Navy have experienced the attack of Fetullah Gulen’s terrorist network and are aware of the “insidiousness of this plot”, adding that “the most important lesson to be drawn” is that it is essential that the Armed Forces meticulously maintain the fundamental values of the Constitution, which cannot even be susceptible to constitutional reform (note 4).
NOTE 1: REFERENCES TO LAUSANNE AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR the reference to Lausanne and the conflict is the “Kemalist signature” under the document, surely written by the so-called Eurasist network, the most famous member being ret. Adm. Gurdeniz, a supporter of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine, who is the signatory no. 63. Eurasists profess the Kemalist thought and strongly oppose Turkey’s NATO membership. In this they oppose President Erdogan’s vision, who nevertheless adopts the “Blue Homeland” as a naval corollary of his foreign and military policy, also given the importance of the gas fields discovered around Cyprus. Lausanne has been strongly and repeatedly criticized by President Erdogan as a nefarious event for Turkey, while the Kemalists see it as one of the most important successes of Kemal’s policy, and one of the foundations of Turkey’s foreign policy along with the maintained neutrality during the II world war. Such an explicit reference is therefore a criticism, not even too veiled, of the foreign policy and of the general post-Kemalist vision of the AKP;
NOTE 2: BLACK SEA SECURITY is a clear reference to Russia. The Eurasists are in fact opposed to NATO, pro-Chinese and pro-Russian. Therefore, the “risk of entering into a conflict” shall probably be understood as the risk of adhering to the demands of the Atlantic Alliance to the detriment of relations with Russia…or a mere emphasis on how imposing passages fees to Russia may be a very annoying issue for Moscow. Russophilia is another element of contrast to the AKP policy, that would like to consolidate its position as an irreplaceable, essential (and certainly not free of charge) Washington’s ally in the entire area stretching from the Balkans to Central Asia. We will verify the solidity of this interpretation by reading tomorrow morning’s headlines of ‘Aydınlık’, the press organ of the Vatan (“Homeland”) Party, a fusion of Maoism and Kemalism, a deeply anti-Western Party;
NOTE 4: GULEN AND THE CONSTITUTION are instead mentioned in a sort of clarification attempt to be given to the incumbent government. This considers July the 15th of 2016, the day the coup attributed to Gulen failed, the starting date of the “new Turkey”. It is in fact from that moment that the effective power of the Presidency of the Republic begun its consolidation process. The constitutional reform that inaugurates Turkish presidentialism and the following administrative reforms and purges of all the apparatuses of the State were permitted by it. It should be emphasized that, on that 15th of July, the Navy did not support the coup. The reference to that event and its condemnation therefore mean a clear distancing from the previous coups and a condemnation of the political functions carried out in the past by the Turkish Armed Forces through the National Security Council: the Admirals did not want to be misunderstood and considered as putschists.
The reference to the unreformable parts of the Constitution is to its Preamble and its first 4 articles, which establish that Ataturk’s nationalism, populism and secularism cannot be subject of a constitutional reform.
The Government has, however, reacted with force and immediacy and accused the Admirals of being in the wake of the coup, and therefore supporting a further coup d’état with continuous references to 15 July are continuous. The explicit condemnation of the coup d’état, therefore, did not achieved the desired results: the Presidential Spokesman, the Vice-President, the Minister of Defense (with statements by the Commanders General of the Gendarmerie and of the Coast Guard), the Minister of Communications, the Minister of the Interior, the Deputy Secretary of the AKP and the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party have spoken out openly accusing the authors of the communiqué of being neo-putschists and belonging to that “old Turkey” the current Government exists to bring down.
It must be acknowledged that the communiqué lends itself easily to criticisms:
- It is written with style and contents that are really similar to the statements issued in the past by the National Security Council to threaten interventions by the Armed Forces,
- It shows a content that is difficult to digest by Turkey’s political and administrative system after the 2017 reforms.
The document is indeed dangerous for its authors.
The harsher criticism and condemnation on the Admirals’ communiqué were released by the leader of the Nationalist Action Movement (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, on whom President Erdogan is increasingly dependent for the survival of his government. More than its actual electoral weight, it is MHP’s real power, structure and influence to ensure the life of the Government. Bahceli’s alliance is offered at a high price, in particular:
- the end of a total and effective reconciliation process with the Kurds (the AKP does not shre such a nationalist DNA, and considers racism to be anti-Islamic),
- withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, which is probably somewhat welcomed by the ideologically more conservative AKP’s wing but dangerous in this historic moment, when Turkey has no interest in attracting accusations of extremism,
- structuring a policy towards Arab countries characterized by the supremacy of the Turkish element.
The consequences of today’s statement will be appreciated soon. If it was a mere, reckless and somewhat clumsy declaration, its signatories will be probably trialed and deprived of honours and pensions. Should the declaration be proven inspired – perhaps by Moscow – in order to send a message, further incidents will follow and they shall be monitored. There, we will observe how the MHP will react and how it will move its pawns at home and abroad, especially in Central Asia.