Devlet Bahçeli, leader of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and a key ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Tuesday said that a recent statement from 104 retired admirals was a “call for a coup” and that the signatories’ military rank should be retroactively removed for “committing a crime.”
The statement, which was released on April 4 and criticizes a canal project in İstanbul as well as a debate over the possibility of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Montreux Convention, led to an investigation into the admirals, with 10 of them detained on Monday on charges of using “force and violence” to overturn the constitutional order.
“It’s clear as day that this is a call for a coup. This statement is … a weapon directed at the will of the nation,” Bahçeli said during a party meeting in Ankara in support of similar comments by Erdoğan regarding the declaration on Monday.
“These admirals should be stripped of their rank, their retirement rights should be removed and their pensions must be cut,” the MHP leader added.
“The Montreux Convention … is a red line for us and a guarantee for peace and stability in the Black Sea,” Bahçeli said, referring to the 1936 pact aimed at demilitarizing the Black Sea by setting strict commercial and naval rules on passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits leading to the Mediterranean.
Describing the declaration as “a black stain on the history of Turkish democracy,” Bahçeli emphasized that cleansing that stain was “the honor of democracy, law and national will.”
“This crime cannot and will not go unpunished,” he said.
In the wake of the MHP leader’s remarks, a letter sent by him to 313 Turkish generals in 2004 — when the MHP was an opposition party that harshly criticized the government –- came to public attention once again.
In the 17-page letter, titled “A call to historic duty,” Bahçeli urges the generals to take action and warn the government about the course of the developments in the country.
“The recent developments show that certain circles which target Turkey’s national unity and territorial integrity want to drag the country into a dangerous environment of tensions,” the letter said, according to a report by the Hürriyet daily on Aug. 2, 2004.
Although he went so far as to call on the army to take action against the government at the time, Bahçeli was quick to accuse the 104 retired admirals of suggesting a coup for calling on the government to rule out withdrawing from the Montreux Convention, opposition media reports said on Tuesday.
Officials last month approved a project to develop a new 45-kilometer (28-mile) shipping lane comparable to the Panama or Suez canals, but it has raised questions over Turkey’s commitment to the Montreux Convention. The retired admirals worry that the new canal’s construction would result in Turkey abandoning the 1936 treaty, angering Russia and losing its neutrality in the volatile region.
What made the admirals anxious was a landmark move by Erdoğan last month to withdraw Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty that combats domestic violence.
Erdoğan received the authority to pull Turkey out of treaties without parliament’s approval in 2018 when he was elected for a second term as president, but this time under a presidential system of governance that granted him vast powers.