Last week a group of retired admirals of the Turkish military released a statement publicizing their criticism and concerns regarding a debate in Turkey over the Montreux Convention (1936). Their statement sparked further debate and uproar across the country.
This affair could herald a wind of change as it signals the possible collapse of an alliance that had been formed over shared interests in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt. Perhaps the reason why the government is so angry about the admirals’ statement is that most of its signatories actually endorse the government’s foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In line with the notion of the “Blue Homeland” and the will to expand Turkey’s military activities in the Mediterranean, the majority of those retired admirals endorse the government’s discourse according to which foreign powers would want to restrain Turkey to Anatolia and that it should seek a continuous presence across a wide geography, from Syria and Libya.
Meanwhile, members of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) get caught in scandals almost every week, and the party fails to uphold its moral integrity. Besides, it is suffering a steady erosion of its base and the economy falters. The governing coalition is failing to deal with those immediate issues, which leads them to divert public attention. In such a context, this group of retired officers came in handy with their public statement criticizing the government.
Yet certain questions remain over the retired admirals’ statement. Could they not foresee that the government would use it to its advantage? And rather than favoring democratic reform, those retired admirals support a militarist, nationalist, security-based regime. They regard the AKP-MHP coalition’s hawkish foreign policy as a necessity. Still, perhaps they didn’t actually foresee that the government would instrumentalize their statement.
One of the signatories, retired admiral Cem Gürdeniz, who has repeatedly said that the government’s Kanal Istanbul Project would make the Montreux Convention disputable, openly supports the government’s recent foreign policy in his last book, but at the same time, he calls for the Kemalist axis be followed. The retired admirals’ emphasis on the Montreux Convention in their statement is in accord with the ideas of Gürdeniz as expressed in his book.
Gürdeniz, who regards the Montreux Convention as a geopolitical gain for Turkey as well as one the strongest guarantee of its maritime security, wrote the following in his book: “In June 1944, the British fleet in the Aegean searched a German trade ship of the Kessel class and revealed that the vessel’s freight was weapons. Upon this, Turkish Foreign Minister Numan Menemencioğlu resigned on June 19, 1944. The Montreux Convention was such a significant gain for Turkey to achieve with its state and fleet power in 1936 that a cabinet minister could resign in order to prevent the hegemonic powers from questioning the deal. It was impossible to get a better deal than the Montreux Convention under the conditions of that day. Even today, it is not possible to have a more advantageous deal for our country.”
Throughout his book, Gürdeniz emphasizes Turkey’s Eurasian shift as a counter-response to the West’s will to “imprison” Turkey within the Western block. “A new world order is being established. We wake up to a new development every day. In this era, the imperial front against Turkey is becoming more and more powerful and aggressive in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. We still find it hard to understand that Russia and China are the only powers to side with our geopolitical resistance block. We downed a Russian airplane on November 24, 2015. If the failed coup attempt of the Gülenist movement had not taken place on July 15, 2016, we would still be open to the manipulation of the Atlantic front…”
In short, like Gürdeniz, the retired admirals who released the statement endorse the Montreux Convention and adhere to Kemalist secularism.
The government is determined to carry out the Kanal Istanbul Project at the cost of overturning the Montreux Convention, as the project would generate colossal economic gains for government officials and the circles around them. While the retired admirals protest against this project, they partake in an alliance with the government against the “common enemy.”
Following the coup attempt of July 2016, those admirals led joint efforts with the government to uproot the Gülenist movement. Their perception of “the continuity of the state” is more fixed than that of politicians. The views of politicians change according to daily moves, but these people are soldiers and have fixed ideas. The name of the political party in power is far less important than the “ideology” in power. The retired admirals were content with the government’s ideology up until recently.
The ruling “ideology” rests on security concerns, it is secular, Turkist and militarist. Its only fault is that it is not Kemalist enough.
Thus, the irritation the retired admirals as it is mentioned in their statement has nothing to do with the government’s “construction.” On the contrary, they regard freedom, democracy and equality as a field filled with booby traps, just like the ruling party does. Only a regime that guarantees “the perpetuity of the state” should be built. However, we now see that the troubled government’s economic moves have started to contrast with the mentality of this fraction. Consequently, the paths that crossed in 2016 are now parting their ways. We know how the AKP handles such breaks ups only too well.
Still, as the government has few allies at the moment, it will come up with another victimhood narrative as it loses this ally.