ANKARA – Turkish authorities on Monday detained 10 retired admirals after a group of more than 100 former top navy officers declared their commitment to an international shipping treaty, a statement that government officials tied to Turkey’s history of military coups.
The retired admirals were held as part of an investigation into whether they had reached "an agreement with the aim of committing a crime against the security of the state and the constitutional order,” Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The chief prosecutor in Ankara launched the investigation on Sunday.
Four other former navy officers were asked to report to authorities within three days but not detained because of their advanced ages, Anadolu reported.
Authorities also stripped the suspects of their rights to government housing and bodyguards, the news agency said.
In his first comments on the declaration issued late Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the admirals of having ulterior motives, dismissing arguments that the former officers merely expressed an opinion.
“This act, which took place at midnight, is definitely an ill-intended attempt in its tone, its method and according to the debates it would clearly lead to,” Erdogan said.
He spoke after summoning a meeting with the head of the intelligence agency, the chief of military staff and some members of his Cabinet to discuss the admirals' statement.
“It is under no circumstances acceptable for...retired admirals to make such an attempt in the middle of the night in a country whose history is full of coups and memoranda,” Erdogan said.
The 10 retired admirals were detained at their homes in Ankara, Istanbul and Kocaeli, and undergoing questioning by the chief prosecutor’s office in the capital.
Anadolu reported that they included Cem Gurdeniz, the name behind Turkey’s controversial “Blue Homeland” doctrine, which claims vast sections of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas and its undersea energy deposits. The concept is at odds with Greece and Cyprus’ claims in the region.
A total of 103 retired admirals signed the statement declaring their commitment to an international treaty that regulates shipping through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, which link the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea. The 14 suspects are believed to have organized the declaration.
The statement was issued amid a debate over whether Erdogan, who withdrew Turkey from a international convention to protect women last month, could also pull the country out of the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates the passage through the straits, and other international treaties.
Erdogan's plan to build an alternative waterway to the north of Istanbul that would bypass the Bosporus also sparked a debate over the Montreux treaty.
“The fact that withdrawing from the Montreux Convention was opened to debate as part of talks on Canal Istanbul and the authority to exit from international treaties was met with concern,” the retired admirals said in their declaration.
The statement triggered strong condemnation by ruling party and government officials who drew a parallel with statements that accompanied past military takeovers in Turkey.
Erdogan voiced a commitment to the shipping treaty but did not rule out its revision in the future.
“We neither have any current plans nor any intention with regard to leaving the Montreux Convention. But if the need arises in the future, we will not hesitate to review any convention to ensure that our country gets a better deal,” he said.
Earlier, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, a former chief of military staff, said the declaration served no purpose other than to “harm Turkey’s democracy, break the Turkish Armed Forces’ personnel’s morale, and please our enemies.”
Turkey experienced coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, and a 1997 military intervention caused the resignation of an Islamist-led coalition government. In 2016, a failed coup led to more than 250 deaths.