On the night of April 3, 2021, a letter addressed to the Turkish nation and signed by 104 retired admirals of the Turkish navy was published. The letter opposed a recent statement by the parliament speaker, who is a member of the country's ruling AKP, in which he said that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can overturn the 1936 Montreux Agreement. The letter also strongly condemned, apparently in response to a change to regulations of the country's military academies, recent attempts at "leaving the values of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Turkish Navy, and of moving away from the contemporary list of duties that [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk drew up."
This report will review some of the events leading up to the publication of the letter and the letter itself.
Events Leading Up To The Release Of The Letter: New Military Academy Regulations And AKP Statement On Overturning The Montreux Agreement
On March 23, Turkey's official public record published new regulations for Turkey's elite National Defense University and its military academies. The regulations left out a condition for entry that had been included in the other sets of regulations released up to that point. The ommitted condition had in the past forbade potential candidates at the university or the academies from having participated in "reactionary" activities prior to admission. In Turkey, it is commonly understood that this term, irticai ("reactionary"), refers to Islamist and anti-secularist activities. The condition was likely used to keep those with jihadi or Islamist connections out of the officer ranks of the Turkish military, which, until the period of President Erdoğan's rule, had been the country's central secular institution.
Opposition politicians reacted strongly to the ommission, including: Muharrem İnce, a former presidential candidate and MP for the opposition party CHP representing a district in Yalova province; Engin Altay, CHP parliamentary group leader and MP representing a district in Sinop; and Özgür Ceylan, a CHP MP representing a district in Gallipoli. Former admiral Nusret Güner, who did not sign the letter that the 104 admirals released but later said he "completely agreed" with it, emphasized the importance of the ommission, and reportedly said that the top-level military commanders who were unable to convince political leaders of its importance had a "historical responsibility" concerning it.
In a March 24 talk show, Mustafa Şentop, who is parliament speaker and an MP representing a district in Istanbul for the AKP, in response to a question about whether "a president [i.e., Erdoğan]" could overturn the Montreux Agreement, said that "technically, he could do it." The letter from the admrials appears to specifically address these two issues: the "values of the Turkish armed forces," that is, the military's historically secularist character, and Turkey's potential withdrawal from the Montreux Agreement. After the letter was released, ten of the admirals who signed it were arrested on charges of "conspiracy to commit a crime against the security and constitutional order of the state," while another four were, due to their old age, only summoned to give statements. After the arrests of the admirals, President Erdoğan said: "We see the gains that Montreux has provided for our country as important, and we are sustaining our connection to it until we find a possibility for something better."
The Montreux agreement, signed in 1936, details the control that Turkey has over the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, including its authority over how foreign commercial and military vessels can pass through these waterways. It limits the tonnage of naval fleets in the Black Sea that belong to countries not bordering the Black Sea, and limits the duration of those fleets' stay in the Black Sea to 21 days. It also limits, in a time of war in which Turkey is not participating, the conditions under which ships belonging to participant governments in the war are allowed to pass through the Bosporus. This limitation has protected Turkey's neutrality by allowing Turkey to refuse passage, in accordance with the agreement, to German and Italian ships in WWII, during which Turkey was neutral. The agreement could further protect Turkey's neutrality in the same way in a future conflict by allowing Turkey to, without taking a side in the war, refuse ships' passage through the straits because permitting the passage would be in violation of the Montreux Agreement. However, before the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1936 Montreux Agreement, the Ottoman State had total control over who passes through the straits and when. If President Erdoğan favors Turkey's total sovereign control over the Bosporus over the practical benefit the Montreux Agreement provides of allowing Turkey to remain neutral, he may choose to overturn the Agreement.
Admirals' Letter: "We Condemn And Oppose With Our Entire Being The Attempts At A Display Of Leaving The Values Of The Turkish Armed Forces And The Turkish Navy"
Following is the text of the letter:
"To the supreme Turkish nation,
"Whether it be in the scope of the Istanbul Canal or the authority over cancellation of international agreements, the opening of the Montreux Agreement to debate in recent times is met with [our] concern.
"The Turkish straits are one of the most important waterways in the world and have throughout history been governed by multilateral agreements. The Montreux Agreement, which is the last of these and the one that protects Turkey's rights in the best way, is not only a provisional contract on the Turkish Straits; it is a great victory of diplomacy that completes the Lausanne Peace Agreement and wins back Turkey's rights of full sovereignty over Istanbul, Gallipoli, the Marmara Sea, and the Straits. Montreux is the fundamental document of the security of the countries on the shores of the Black Sea and the contract that makes the Black Sea a sea of peace. Montreux is a contract that prevents Turkey from unwillingly joining a war on the side of one of the warring parties. Montreux allowed Turkey to protect its neutrality in World War II. For this and similar reasons, we are of the opinion that it is necessary to avoid every kind of discourse and action that may cause the Montreux Agreement, which holds an important place in the continuation of Turkey, to become a subject of debate or to be brought to the [negotiating] table.
The letter signed by 104 retired Turkish admirals.
"On the other hand, some unacceptable images, news, and debates that have come to social media and the press in recent days have been a deep source of sadness for those of us who have devoted our lives to this [military] profession. The Turkish Armed Forces and the Naval Forces in particular have in recent years experienced a very conscious FETÖ attack and lost very valuable staff to these treacherous conspiracies. The most important lesson to take from these conspiracies is: It is an absolute neccessity that the Turkish Armed Forces maintain the unchanging fundamental values, the changing of which cannot even be considered, of the constitution.
"With these justifications, we condemn and oppose with our entire being the attempts at a display of leaving the values of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Turkish Navy, and of moving away from the contemporary list of duties that [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk drew up. Otherwise, the Republic of Turkey may face the risk and threat of experiencing events that are a source of trouble and a danger for its future.
"It is essential that the personnel of the Navy, which is the protector of the main homeland and the Blue Homeland and has a glorious past that has come from the bosom of the Turkish nation, be trained according to the principles and reforms of Atatürk. We stand beside our long-suffering Turkish sailors, who, in every corner of our country, at sea, on land, and in the air, serve self-sacrificingly in internal security and beyond our borders to protect our rights and interests in the Blue Homeland, working with their bodies and souls on the path that Atatürk laid out."
The Admirals Who Signed The Letter
The retired admirals who signed the letter were: Ergun Mengi, Alaettin Sevim, Nazif Özdağdevġren, Işik Biren, Ahmet Şenol, Hasan Hoşgit, Vedat Ersin, Metin Açimuz, Atilla Kezek, Nurhan Kahyaoğlu, Önder Çelebi, Metin Poyrazlar, Mücahit Şişlioğlu, Engin Baykal, Hüseyin Çiftçi, Atilla Kiyat, Vehbi Alpman, Celal Parlakoğlu, Mustafa Ekmel Özdengil, Serdar Dülger, Abdullah Mete, Ertan Demirtaş, Orhun Özdemir, Ersin Güler, Nadir Kinay, Hüseyin Hoşgit, Ilker Güven, Baha Eren, Abdullah Gavremoğlu, Şükrü Bozoğlu, Hakan Ercan, Mesut Özel, Taner Ezgü, Ibrahim Akin, Ömer Akdağli, Mehmet Otuzbiroğlu, Taner Balkiş, Izzet Artunç, Hakan Eraydin, Mehmet Ali Çinar, Deniz Dağlilar, Yalçin Ertuna, Türker Ertürk, Aydin Canel, Sami Örgüç, Yalçin Kavukçuoğlu, Nazim Çubukçu, Ahmet Aksoy, Can Erenoğlu, Doğan Hacipoğlu, Abdullah Akgül, Aziz Öztürk, A.Serdar Akinsel, Ilker Güven, Mustafa Ipteş, Caner Bener, Nejat Berksun, Kadir Sağdiç, Tayfun Tansan, Iskender Yildirim, Ali Yüksel Önel, Uğur Yiğit, Mustafa Özbey, Cem Gürdeniz, Bülent Bostanoğlu, Murat Bilgel, Cengiz Alpözü, Serdar Okan Kirçiçek, Tufan Mimir, Turgut Tufan, Turhan Özer, Alper Tezeren, Mustafa Ültanur, Ruhsar Sümer, Cemal Üren, Gündüz Alp Demirus, Deniz Cora, Gürkan Inan, Atilla Tonguç, Mustafa Karasabun, Erol Yüksel, Özbek Gürgün, Bülent Olcay, Nejat Güldiken, Turgay Erdağ, Ismail Taylan, Aydin Gürül, Raif Naldemir, Numan Alansal, Tanzar Dinçer, Erol Adayener, Haluk Sayin, Ferhat Ferhanoğlu, Mehmet Ali Özgüven, Ali Sadi Ünsal, Doğan Denizmen, Taner Akkaya, Necati Kurt, Tayfun Uraz, Engin Heper, Hayati Bilgiç, Hasan Nihat Doğan, Ömer Bayram Çetin, And Mithat Kemal Algül.
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