The letter by 104 retired Turkish admirals to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which they openly criticized a canal project dear to the Turkish president and the possible revision of the 1936 Montreux Convention was rather theatrical in its conception and delivery. The admirals’ only accomplishment was that they were denounced also by the pro-Kemalist parties which are opposed to Erdogan.
First of all, the plan to develop a shipping lane, through Istanbul, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara parallel to the narrow Bosporus was first proposed by former prime minister Tansu Ciller, a Kemalist politician, in January 1994. The idea was, in fact, a response to a business plan announced in 1993 by Nikos Grigoriadis. Grigoriadis, a close associate of shipping tycoon Yiannis Latsis, understood that American companies were interested in exploiting energy resources in the countries of the former Soviet Union. He consequently proposed the development of an oil pipeline that would run through Bulgaria and Greece, bypassing the Bosporus Strait. Ciller’s plan was designed to exclude Greek participation in an investment program aimed at decongesting the strait which was anyway undermined by the Clinton administration.
A great deal has changed since then. Today, Erdogan is determined to start work on the construction of his multibillion-dollar canal project, known as the Istanbul Kanal, this summer. A tender is expected to be launched soon.
Construction of the new shipping lane will not challenge the Montreux Convention as long as it is used by commercial vessels. The cost of navigating the canal will be considerable but, as every businessman will tell you, the cost is always passed on to the consumer.
The controversy regarding the Montreux Convention emerged after a journalist asked Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop if a president can dissolve an international treaty. To which he replied: “He has the authority to do so. But there is a difference between possible and probable.”
Erdogan later denied any connection between the two issues. Time will show if this is the case. Turkey’s true motives will unfold in the long run.
To sum up, certain retired admirals failed to realize that they are out of the picture. Their fate does not concern us Greeks, particularly given the fact that they included the architect of Turkey’s expansionist Blue Homeland maritime doctrine. It is important to understand that Erdogan’s rivals are not necessarily Greece’s friends.