Former Turkish diplomats warn Montreux Convention must remain in place

Map showing the proposed Istanbul Canal, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara in Turkey. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 03 April 2021

Former Turkish diplomats warn Montreux Convention must remain in place

  • Controversial $9.2 billion Kanal Istanbul project draws criticism

ANKARA: With discussions over the revision of the 1936 Montreux Convention regarding control of the Istanbul Straits ongoing, Turkey recently approved development plans for the controversial 45-kilometer Kanal Istanbul project.

The project has attracted criticism not only for its financial cost and environmental impact, but also its potential repercussions for maritime transit.

The artificial seaway will cost an estimated $9.2 billion, and will connect the Black Sea north of Istanbul to the Marmara Sea to the south. It is intended to ease traffic on the Bosphorus Strait.

Kanal Istanbul is being touted as an alternative global shipping lane, but the scheme — first introduced to the public as a “crazy project” — has been harshly criticized by Istanbul’s opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu from the beginning.

In a rare move, 126 retired Turkish ambassadors released a statement on Friday warning that the Kanal Istanbul project could put the Montreux Convention at risk and have an adverse affect on Turkish interests.

“Kanal Istanbul will open the Montreux Convention to discussion, and will lead to Turkey’s loss of absolute sovereignty over the Sea of ​​Marmara,” the statement said.

In an interview with HaberTurk on March 24, Speaker of the Turkish Parliament Mustafa Sentop was asked: “What if one day one president says, ‘I do not recognize (the) Montreux (Convention). I dissolved it’?”

Sentop replied: “He has the authority to do so. But there is a difference between possible and probable.”

In a 2018 presidential decree, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assigned himself authority to withdraw Turkey from any international treaty or pact — such as the Montreux Convention — without parliamentary approval.

The convention grants free passage to all civilian vessels and determines the mode of entry and length of stay, as well as the tonnage, of warships from all non-littoral countries in the Black Sea.

Once completed, Kanal Istanbul will provide a shorter way for naval vessels from non-littoral countries to reach the Black Sea, so long as they pay the necessary fees.

But, if no further abrupt revision is made to the Montreux Convention, these vessels have to respect the rules of Montreux as they will enter Kanal Istanbul from the Dardanelles straits that are still determined by this decades-long international regime. 

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based expert on Turkey-Russia relations, believes Russia will stand against any attempts to void the Montreux Convention, however.

“This international convention was prepared by convening relevant states at an international conference. Therefore, a unilateral withdrawal is unlikely, as it will draw serious anger and retaliation from the Kremlin side,” Sezer told Arab News.

In an interview in December 2019 with Turkish journalist Murat Yetkin, Aleksey Yerkhov, Moscow’s ambassador in Ankara, said that if the canal were to be built, Russia would insist on applying the provisions of the Montreux Convention to all passages.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News: “There are two opposing views on whether Kanal Istanbul would fall under the Montreux regime if it were built. While I don’t think which interpretation gains acceptance will ultimately matter so far as vessels of war are concerned, I would not say the same thing regarding merchant vessels and revenue generation.”

Unluhisarcikli believes that Turkey will ultimately decide to unilaterally apply the provisions of the Montreux Convention concerning vessels of war, as any other course of action could lead to the collapse of the Montreux regime, making Turkey subject to pressure from both its Western allies and Russia.

“However, in this case Turkey could apply different rules to merchant vessels in order to be able to generate revenue,” he added.

“If Kanal Istanbul were accepted as falling under the Montreux regime, Turkey could find it difficult to generate significant revenue, as the Montreux Convention limits the taxes and charges that can be imposed on merchant vessels,” Unluhisarcikli concluded.


Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

Updated 3 min 8 sec ago

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

  • Concern over criminalization of politics as opposition calls for parliamentary inquiry

JEDDAH: Turkish government officials entered into a war of words with the country’s well-known mafia leader, Sedat Peker, who released a series of videos about schemes within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) involving some of its deputies.

The claims pushed opposition politicians to call for the truth behind the claims in order to fight against the criminalization of politics.

Ultranationalist convict Peker alleged that former interior minister, Mehmet Agar, and his son, Tolga Agar, who is currently a deputy for the AKP, were involved in the suspicious death of a 21-year-old Kazakh journalist, Yeldana Kaharman, two years ago, a day after she interviewed Tolga Agar.

Kaharman allegedly committed suicide, but it is claimed that the autopsy report shows otherwise. However, the case was quickly closed by the local prosecutors at the time.

Peker claimed that Agar was “the head of deep state” in Turkey.

Former justice minister of the ruling government and current member of the presidency’s higher advisory board, Cemil Cicek, urged the judiciary to investigate Peker’s claims about the Agar family.

“If even one-thousandth of these claims are true, this is a disaster and very problematic . . . Turkey has had enough experience in the past concerning similar issues,” Cicek said on May 12.

“We should learn the necessary lessons. The relevant prosecutor needs to take action and do what is necessary,” Cicek said.

Mehmet Agar claims that the state can examine him whenever required.

The claims pushed opposition parties to try to make the government accountable for its ties with the mafia leader.

Last year, the Turkish government passed a controversial amnesty law that freed up to 90,000 inmates from Turkish prisons for non-political crimes, but excluded dissident journalists and politicians.

The law resulted in the mass release of organized gang leaders, including Alaattin Cakici, a notorious mafia kingpin closely connected to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). During the time that Cakici was behind bars, his rival Peker consolidated his grip on the Turkish underworld.

The group deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, said that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was the connection point between the AKP, its ally MHP and the mafia.

Ozel also claimed that the interior minister was closely tied to mafia leader Peker and that the government turned a blind eye to Peker’s previous actions in the northern city of Rize, where he threatened the dissident academics of the country, saying: “I will shower them with their own blood.”

In the latest video he released, Peker confessed that he had played a role in the support shown for Interior Minister Soylu when the minister decided to resign from his post in April 2020. Peker allegedly organized a Twitter campaign to object to Soylu’s resignation.

Since 2019, Peker has lived in Balkan countries where he regularly met Bosniak political leaders. He claimed that he had to leave Turkey because of a personal hostility with the Turkish president’s son-in-law and former finance minister, Berat Albayrak.

After being arrested earlier this year in North Macedonia with a fake ID and passport, he was deported to Kosovo where he had a business residence permit. He is currently believed to live in Dubai.

Peker, with a strong network in Istanbul’s underworld, was previously blamed by some politicians, such as Baris Atay of the Workers’ Party of Turkey, for using gangs to attack dissidents in the streets. Atay was seriously beaten up in a busy street of Istanbul after he was verbally targeted by Soylu.

The opposition now urges the government to form a parliamentary inquiry commission and inform the public about these allegations.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, former head of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission and founding member of the breakaway Future Party that is led by the country’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the allegations should spark a serious campaign against “deep state” in Turkey.

“Turkey should launch a countrywide campaign against deep state and a widespread mafia structure that reached out to the inner circles of the state,” he told Arab News.

“A parliamentary commission should be established where each party at the parliament will be represented equally to investigate Peker’s claims,” he said.

“Any connection between the politics and public security should be put under broad daylight,” Ustun added, referring to the 1996 Susurluk scandal in Turkey where close ties between the state and the mafia were revealed after strong popular insistence.

Interior Minister Soylu will file a lawsuit against the allegations made by Peker, and he called on the mafia leader to surrender to Turkish justice.

Peker has been tried several times by Turkish courts over his involvement in criminal gangs.

He was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2007 for establishing and leading a criminal organization, and for forgery.

His sentence, however, was later reduced to 10 years and he was released from jail in 2014.

The number of Peker’s damaging video releases are expected to reach 12 in total.


Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

Updated 13 May 2021

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

  • Authorities allow only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares in central Beirut
  • Religious leader raps errors of government and warns of ‘revolt of the hungry’ during holiday sermon

BEIRUT: Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Lebanon were very scarce on Thursday as the country was in the middle of a two-day total closure and curfew to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

As people avoided gatherings in homes and public places during what is supposed to be a joyous time, one prominent religious leader expressed fear during his Eid sermon.

“People will starve as a result of the errors and sins of the government, and from an explosion or social violence, which will lead to the revolt of the hungry,” said Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon.

“When this happens, remorse will not be helpful.”

He also accused “political officials of regressing to low levels of violating the constitution, striking the judiciary, resorting to sectarian delusions, and dividing citizens.”

The joy of Eid could not be seen on the faces of the Lebanese people as living conditions continue to deteriorate in a country gripped in financial and political turmoil. 

Authorities allowed only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares surrounding the Al-Amin Mosque in central Beirut.

The prayers were led by Sheikh Derian as Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab were among the many who participated in the prayer.

The Israeli-Gaza violence and unrest dominated the Eid sermon, but the political reality and the poor living conditions within Lebanon were also addressed in the sermon from Sheikh Derian.

“The collapse and devastation that we are living through it can only be stopped by the birth of a government that addresses the corruption and decay that Lebanon has seen for the first time in decades,” Mufti Derian said. “We need a government that carries out the required reforms. Anything else counts as deception.”

He also criticized “those working in public political affairs for failing their citizens when they indulged in corruption and prevented the formation of a government capable of stopping the collapse, beginning reconstruction, and seeking help from the international community.”

It was noticeable that the Arab and Islamic diplomatic presence was absent from the central Eid prayer in downtown Beirut.

The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, performed Eid prayers in the garden of his residence in the Yarze district while a number of ambassadors of Arab and Islamic countries and embassy staff joined him. The embassy took the initial precautionary measures related to the coronavirus.

Measures to remove subsidies on more subsidized food commodities, fuel and medicines added even more concern to a continuing list of hardships experienced by the Lebanese people even before Ramadan.

Many pharmacies closed their doors because owners did not receive the minimum needs of medicine and baby milk from agents and warehouses.

Despite the complete closure, petrol stations remained busy as people fear more fuel shortages.

“The ships that produce power will stop on Saturday, and the factories will follow suit,” Abdo Saadeh, president of the Association of Private Generator Owners, said on Thursday.

“This means that the rationing of electric current in Lebanon may exceed 20 hours. In parallel, there is a shortage of diesel that feeds private generators, which means we are on the verge of a big problem.”

The fuel crisis affects vital sectors in Lebanon, as the secretary-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, Georges Kettaneh, announced that the Red Cross “has prepared a plan to fill its cars with fuel, and there is no crisis yet.”

The head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners, Suleiman Haroun, said: “If Lebanon enters darkness as a result of not providing the funds allocated for the purchase of fuel, many patients in need of oxygen and dialysis machines will be affected.”

Haroun warned that private hospitals have generators, but it is impossible to ask hospitals to supply themselves with electricity 24 hours a day because “these generators are there to support the network and be a substitute for any malfunctions that occur.”


Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

  • The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April
  • Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine

CAIRO: Egypt has received a batch of over 1.7 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative and a separate shipment of 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April. It has also received several shipments of the Sinopharm vaccine, bringing the total number of vaccine doses delivered to 5 million, the health ministry said.
Egypt has an agreement for the supply of 20 million Sinopharm doses, and has been allocated 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX.
It is preparing to produce the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines locally.
Egypt, with a population of just over 100 million, is trying to contain a third wave of COVID-19 infections and the government has put in place some restrictive measures until May 21, shortening opening hours and banning large gatherings.
Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine. Authorities opened a mass vaccination center in Cairo this month capable of vaccinating 10,000 people per day.
Egypt had officially confirmed 240,927 coronavirus cases including 14,091 deaths as of Wednesday.
Officials and experts say the real number of infections is far higher, but is not reflected in government figures because of low testing rates and the exclusion of private test results.


Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Updated 13 May 2021

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”

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Gaza death toll tops 100 as Israeli air strikes, Hamas rocket fire continue

Updated 13 min 33 sec ago

Gaza death toll tops 100 as Israeli air strikes, Hamas rocket fire continue

  • Palestinian officials say 27 children are among the dead in four days of Israeli bombardment
  • Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip and massed tanks and troops on the enclave’s border.
Four days of cross-border fighting showed no sign of abating, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the campaign “will take more time.” Israeli officials said Gaza’s ruling Hamas group must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any cease-fire.
Violence has also spread to mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, a new front in the long conflict. Synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out on the streets of some towns, prompting Israel’s president to warn of civil war.
At least 103 people have been killed in Gaza, including 27 children, over the past four days, Palestinian medical officials said. On Thursday alone, 49 Palestinians were killed in the enclave, the highest single-day figure since Monday.

Seven people have been killed in Israel: a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, five Israeli civilians, including two children, and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.
Worried that the region’s worst hostilities in years could spiral out of control, the United States was sending in an envoy, Hady Amr. Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations had yet to deliver a sign of progress.
US President Joe Biden called on Thursday for a de-escalation of the violence, saying he wanted to see a significant reduction in rocket attacks.
Militants fired rocket salvoes at Tel Aviv and surrounding towns with the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepting many of them. Communities near the Gaza border and the southern desert city of Beersheba were also targeted.
Five Israelis were wounded by a rocket that hit a building near Tel Aviv on Thursday.

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Three rockets were also fired from Lebanon toward Israel but landed in the Mediterranean Sea, the military said. It appeared to be a show of solidarity with Gaza by Palestinian groups in Lebanon rather than the start of any offensive.
In Gaza, Israeli warplanes struck a six-story residential building that it said belonged to Hamas. Netanyahu said Israel has struck a total of close to 1,000 militant targets in the territory.
Israeli aircraft also attacked a Hamas intelligence headquarters and four apartments belonging to senior commanders from the group, the military said, adding that the homes were used for planning and directing strikes on Israel.
Diplomats said the United States, a close ally of Israel, objected to a request by China, Norway and Tunisia for a public, virtual meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday to discuss the violence.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters such a meeting would be better next week to allow time for diplomacy in hopes of achieving a de-escalation.
Standing beside a Gaza road damaged in Israeli air strikes, Assad Karam, 20, a construction worker, said: “We are facing Israel and COVID-19. We are in between two enemies.”
In Tel Aviv, Yishai Levy, an Israeli singer, pointed at shrapnel that came down on a sidewalk outside his home.
“I want to tell Israeli soldiers and the government, don’t stop until you finish the job,” he said on YNet television.
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
A number of foreign airlines have canceled flights to Israel because of the unrest.

Palestinians gather to pray around the bodies of 13 Hamas militants, killed in Israeli air strikes, during their funeral at the al-Omari mosque in Gaza City. (AFP)

Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said attacks on militants’ rocket production and launching sites were “disrupting Hamas’ activities,” but still not to the point of stopping the barrages.
“It is more difficult for them, but we have to say in fairness that Hamas is an organized group, one that has the capability to continue to fire for several more days at the places it has been targeting in Israel,” he said on Israeli Channel 12 TV.
He said between 80 and 90 militants had been killed in Israeli attacks.
Zilberman said Israel was “building up forces on the Gaza border,” a deployment that has raised speculation about a possible ground invasion, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and in 2009.
Israeli military affairs correspondents, who are briefed regularly by the armed forces, have said however that a major ground operation is unlikely, citing high casualties among the risks.

Palestinians walk after performing Eid al-Fitr prayers amidst debris near the Al-Sharouk tower. (AFP)

Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida responded to the troop buildup with defiance, urging Palestinians to rise up.
“Mass up as you wish, from the sea, land and sky. We have prepared for your kinds of deaths that would make you curse yourselves,” he said.
So far some 1,750 rockets have been fired at Israel, of which 300 fell short in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said two of its schools were hit on Tuesday and Wednesday “within the context of air strikes by Israel,” and that at least 29 classrooms were damaged.
School is in recess in Gaza, and classes have also been suspended in many parts of Israel, including in one town where an empty school was hit by a rocket on Tuesday.

Palestinians carry the body of a child found in the rubble of a house belonging to the Al-Tanani family, that was destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip on Thursday. (AP)


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an “urgent de-escalation” of violence and French President Emmanuel Macron urged a “definite reset” of long-frozen Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also appealed for an end to the fighting.
The hostilities have fueled tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21 percent Arab minority who live alongside them in some communities.
Jewish and Arab groups attacked people and damaged shops, hotels and cars overnight. In Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jews beat and kicked a man thought to be an Arab as he lay on the ground.
One person was shot and badly wounded by Arabs in the town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew, and over 150 arrests were made in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel, police said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to “this madness.”
Although the latest unrest in Jerusalem was the immediate trigger for hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated by setbacks to their aspirations for an independent state in recent years, including Washington’s recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
On the Israeli political front, Netanyahu’s chances to remain in power after an inconclusive March 23 election appeared to improve significantly after his main rival, centrist Yair Lapid, suffered a major setback in efforts to form a government.