103 ex-admirals issue declaration bashing AKP for ‘Islamisation of army’

(Updates with comments from signatory, politicians)


A total of 103 retired admirals from the Turkish navy published a declaration on Saturday night, denouncing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for “opening up for discussion the Montreux Convention” and for Islamising the army over an active-service rear admiral’s visit to the leader of an extreme religious sect.

“It is met with concern that the Montreux Convention is opened up for discussion within the framework of both Kanal Istanbul and who has the authority to annul international treaties,” the admirals said in their declaration published on secular-nationalist news network Veryansın TV.

The Montreux Convention, signed in Switzerland in 1936, granted Turkey rights to control its two straits, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, while limiting the passage of warships from the straits to only states with borders to the Black Sea.

The admirals called the convention “the single biggest diplomatic victory that completed the Lausanne Peace Treaty”, which determined most of modern Turkey’s borders in 1923, and said the Turkish straits were “among the most important waterways in the world”.

The convention allowed for Turkey to remain neutral during World War II, and ensures peace in the Black Sea in general, they said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently signed an executive order to withdraw Turkey from a Council of Europe treaty on combatting violence against women, better known as the Istanbul Convention. Opposition figures and legal experts maintain it is unlawful for Erdoğan to leave international treaties in this manner, and that to do so Turkey would need a majority vote in parliament.

Erdoğan has also been adamant about the artificial waterway project Kanal Istanbul, which will create another strait on the western end of the megacity if it is implemented. The government says the canal will be used for high-risk vessels such as oil tankers, to reduce traffic in Istanbul’s Bosporus.

“We believe any and all actions and narratives that could result in the Montreux Convention, which is important for the survival of Turkey, becoming a point of discussion needs to be avoided,” the admirals said.

“The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and our Navy have been subjected to very deliberate FETÖ attacks, and lost many valuable cadres to these treacherous plots,” the admirals continued, using the name Turkey prefers for the followers of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey considers to be responsible for a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Gülen and his followers are also accused of having extensively infiltrated key state institutions.

Some 150,000 public servants have been dismissed, with many facing charges and being arrested, during the state of emergency declared following July 15.

As of Nov. 2019, 17,866 members of the TAF (out of a total of 409,182) had been dismissed in connection with July 15 investigations, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar declared in a parliamentary session. Among the dismissed were 150 generals, 8,413 officers, 7,612 petty officers, 1,232 specialised sergeants, and 459 public servants.

“The most important lesson to derive from these plots is that the TAF must meticulously uphold the unchangeable fundamental values of the constitution,” the admirals said, referring to the article that defines Turkey as a secular, democratic state under the rule of law. The declaration continued:

“For these reasons, we condemn attempts to make it seem like our TAF and Naval Forces have left the bounds of these values, steering away from the contemporary route drawn by Atatürk, and we object to them with all that we have. Otherwise, the Republic of Turkey may face a risk and threat to experience a depression and most dangerous events for its survival, for which there are examples in history.”

Government officials have slammed the declaration, with Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun saying:

“Some admirals came together to write a ‘declaration’! And fifth column elements immediately got excited. Sit yourself down. That old Turkey is no more! Who are you? How do you wag a finger to the legitimate representatives of the nation’s will? Turkey is a state of law. Remember that. (Defenders of military tutelage) will never harm our democracy again. The loser pawns of foreign powers won’t cut off the growing, empowered Turkey!”

One of the signatories of the declaration, retired admiral Mustafa Özbey, responded to Altun’s condemnation of the declaration, saying the Erdoğan aide had failed in reading comprehension.

Moreover, Altun has “no idea what freedom of expression is,’’ Özbey said on Twitter. 

“It’s one thing to declare opinions, and another to prepare a declaration that alludes to military coups,” Parliamentary Speaker Mustafa Şentop said in a tweet.

Şentop had kicked off the recent bout of discussions on the Montreux  Convention when he responded to a journalist’s question on whether the president could withdraw from other treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights or the Montreux. “Technically, he can,” the speaker said last week. “But there is a difference between possible and probable.”

“It is an honour to carry the uniform,” Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in a tweet. “A bigger honour to do so after one is retired. We always remember with gratitude those who are loyal to democracy, the state and the nation, and those who don’t use their rank or uniform as political fodder. What about others?”

Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said “a group of pensioner soldiers issued a declaration reminiscent of the coup periods, only putting themselves in a ridiculous and pitiful situation.”

“Our hallowed nation and their representatives won’t let this mentality and those who yearn for tutelage pass. Know your place and sit down,” Kalın continued.

Vice President Fuat Oktay accused the admirals of being “lovers of military coups”. He said:

“Like cowards whistling in a cemetery, the lovers of military coups who can’t handle the will of the nation and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan standing tall have shown the audacity to tell off democratic institutions, elected officials and the Turkish Armed Forces. Know your Place.”

“We will give them the required answer today in the clearest of terms. To those who can brave it, here is the challenge,” Oktay continued.

Erdoğan’s far-right ally Devlet Bahçeli said his Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) “condemns with hate and denounces” the declaration, calling it anti-democratic and threatening. Bahçeli continued:

“Ranks of the admirals who signed the memorandum-style declaration that was served at midnight should be taken away. Their retirement must be removed, their pensions cut off. The declaration must be subject to criminal and administrative investigations from multiple aspects.

The before and after of the declaration signed by 103 pro-tutelage admirals must be investigated with determination, it must be identified and authenticated whoever was involved in this disgrace. The matter is the fatherland, it is democracy, it is the will of the nation. Any compromise or delay will for sure have a heavy cost.”

“There was a captain who read the May 27, 1960 National Unity Committee’s coup memorandum on the radio, does anybody remember his name?” legal scholar Kerem Altıparmak asked Bahçeli, alluding to the founder of the MHP, Alparslan Türkeş.

The chair of the Islamist and nationalist Great Unity Party (BBP) Mustafa Destici called the declaration “unacceptable.’’

The former admirals, under the guise of the Montreaux Convention have “suggested a coup,’’ Destici said on Twitter.

“The constitution is made by our veteran parliament and our glorious nation,’’ he said. “And the country is led by those elected by this nation’’.

Later on Sunday, Turkey’s Coast Guard Command issued  a statement, expressing its allegiance to the Turkish state, nation, democracy and government.

The declaration by the ex-admirals is an act of shamelessnes against the “state, nation, democracy, the law, the state and our nation’’ by those who “lacked awareness of the honour once bestowed upon them,’’ the statement said.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office announced on Sunday that an investigation had been launched on the admirals and the declaration, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

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