Erdoğan turns to Bosporus amid waning support - NY Times

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has resumed heralding the Kanal Istanbul waterway project as support for him and his ruling party hits an all time low amid the coronavirus pandemic and a troubled economy, Istanbul Bureau Chief Carlotta Gall said in an article published on Saturday.

Promising that his multibillion-dollar canal plan would create a construction and real estate boom, as well as revenue from an increased shipping traffic, Erdoğan has signaled that he could do away with the Montreux Convention, the article recalled.

Last month, Turkey approved plans to develop the canal project, which has opened up debate about the 1936 Montreux Convention that guarantees the free passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits of civilian vessels in times of both peace and war.

Earlier this month, Turkish police detained 10 retired admirals after a letter signed by 104 of them warned against a possible threat to the treaty following remarks from Parliamentary Speaker Mustafa Şentop, who said Erdoğan had the authority to withdraw from the convention.

“Secularists, as well as most Turkish diplomats and foreign policy experts, see the Montreux Convention as a win for Turkey and fundamental to Turkish independence and to stability in the region,’’ the NY Times article said. 

Erdoğan and his advisers were well aware of the impossibility of changing the Montreux Convention, it said, but Turkey’s strongman is using the matter to “kick up a storm.’’

Turkish public support for Erdoğan’s governing alliance has dropped to 46 percent from 54 percent, Diken news website reported earlier this month, citing the average of polls conducted by 16 polling companies over the last three months.

This as Turkey’s COVID-19 infections are soaring over 55,000 cases a day and investors and analysts alike warn that country could be veering closer to a currency crisis.

The political storm created by the Montreux Convention and the canal project, the article sited analyst Aslı Aydıntaşbaş as saying, “is the government’s way of lobbying for the canal.”

“Erdogan is adamant about building a channel parallel to the Bosporus, and one of the government’s arguments will likely be that this new strait allows Turkey to have full sovereignty — as opposed to the free passage of Montreux,’’ Aydıntaşbaş said.