ANKARA, (BM) – To reach the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, a ship must take the Dardanelles strait, then that of the Bosphorus, where free navigation is guaranteed by the Montreux Convention, signed in 1936. This text, however, sets conditions for military vessels.
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However, at the beginning of the 2010s, and while he was still the head of the Turkish government, Recep Tayyip Erdogan presented a project aimed at digging a channel between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea at Istanbul. This channel should decongest maritime traffic in the Bosphorus Strait, used each year by at least 40,000 ships [including around 10,000 tankers].
Such a project is not new. It had, in fact, already been put forward in the time of Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century before being abandoned. In detail, this would involve digging a channel 40 to 50 km long, 150 meters wide, and 25 meters deep. This channel would allow the daily transit of 160 heavy tonnage ships.
A time threatened by Turkey’s economic difficulties, this site, described as “pharaonic” by its detractors, was confirmed by President Erdogan in January 2020. “We need a project for an alternative seaway. All the studies have been done; we will have no problem financing or building this canal,” he assured at the time.
However, this channel would be likely to call into question the Montreux Convention. One hundred four former admirals of the Turkish navy put this point of view in an open letter published on April 4, arguing that the text signed in 1936 “protects the best interests” of ‘Ankara.
But this challenge was stiff to the liking of President Erdogan … “Not only those who signed but also those who encourage them will have to be accountable to justice,” declared Fahrettin Altun, head of communication of President Erdogan. And the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, Ibrahim Kalin, went there to the couple by saying that the position of these former admirals “recalled the era of the coup d’etat”. He added, “They must know that our esteemed nation and its representatives will never allow this state of mind.”
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But Turkey did not limit the government’s response to words. On April 5, ten signatories of the open letter were arrested and taken into custody, while four others received a summons to report to Ankara police within three days. And this, as part of an open investigation for “assembly aimed at committing a crime against state security and constitutional order.”
Among the former soldiers arrested is Rear Admiral Cem Gürdeniz, known for developing the doctrine of “Blue Fatherland” [Mavi Vatan, editor’s note]. Ankara bases on justifying its claims in the eastern Mediterranean against Greece.
“I am not directly or indirectly linked to the Turkish government, and it is not my fault that it uses my concept. Mavi Vatan aims to achieve, secure and develop the rights and interests of Turkey in the Mediterranean. This is a question that goes beyond governmental and partisan considerations in Turkey,” Rear Admiral Gürdeniz explained in an interview with the weekly Le Point in November 2020.
Rear Admiral Gürdeniz arrested in 2011 on charges of having instigated a putsch eight years earlier. “It is the organization of Fethullah Gülen [then an ally of President Erdogan, now his main adversary since the attempted coup d’état of July 2016, editor’s note], which had many supporters within the judicial administration, who set up false files against the admirals and the pro-Kemalist officers”, explained the former admiral, who was finally acquitted in 2014.
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