Turkish Military and Politics

Admirals’ Memo Over Treaty: Another ‘Gift From God’ or Real Threat Against Erdogan?

Former admirals’ public criticism of the government over a new canal project in Istanbul would be a new gift to the Turkish leader whose popularity suffers during the pandemic.

Abdullah Ayasun
8 min readApr 6, 2021

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President Erdogan and the Turkish military leadership during a ceremony at Ataturk’s Mausoleum.

At least 103 retired admirals penned down a statement (or memorandum in the military lexicon) to criticize the Turkish government’s intent to build a new canal in Istanbul that would call into question the Montreux Treaty that regulates international shipping through Turkey’s straits that links the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea via the Sea of Marmara. For a country rich with military takeovers of the civilian rule in the past, the admirals’ public demonstration of their displeasure about the state of affairs in Turkey in general, and the canal project in particular, has understandably stirred public controversy.

The statement came after Turkish Parliamentary Spokesman Mustafa Sentop mused the revision of the Montreux Convention by Turkey to finalize the opening of a new waterway in an effort to reduce the shipping traffic through Bosporus that demarcates the Asian continent from Europe. The 1936-signed treaty accrues conditional sovereignty to Turkey, which successfully utilized the worsening state of peace in international politics in the interwar period before WWII to re-assert its sovereign rights over the straits.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s lofty project to build a new waterway dubbed as “Canal Istanbulremains a matter of ensuing controversy at home and abroad. The Russians registered their disapproval of the project on more than one occasion.

When Sentop publicly mulled the prospect of unilaterally ditching the Montreux, the former admirals chimed in.

“The fact that withdrawing the Montreux Convention was opened to debate as part of talks on Canal Istanbul and the authority to exist from international treaties was met with concern,” the…

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun