Montreux Convention and Turkish Sovereignty over the Straits

High-tension Ukraine-Russia relations since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 took on a new dimension with Russia’s attempt to invade Ukraine on February 24. Many countries and international organizations, especially the USA, EU and NATO, condemn Russia’s initiative, sanctions are coming one after another to isolate this country in the global financial system. Turkey’s position in the Ukraine-Russia crisis, being a NATO member and having sovereign rights in the entry and exit of warships in the Black Sea is closely followed by the world.

The strategic location of the Dardanelles and Istanbul Straits has played a decisive role throughout history. While the straits separated the two continents geographically, they also connected the two continents and the seas politically and commercially. For this reason, the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire and the new Turkish Republic over the Straits has come to the fore as an important international problem since the 19th century.

Lausanne Straits Convention Regime (1923-1936)

A separate agreement signed in 1923 in conjunction with the Treaty of Lausanne, in which the young Turkish Republic was recognized as a sovereign state on the international platform, regulated Turkey’s sovereign rights over the Straits. In this section, which is also called the Lausanne Straits Convention, the term Turkish Straits was used for the first time in history. With this contract, passage through the Straits became free and Turkish soldiers withdrew from the Straits. An international commission was established and a Turkish representative was appointed as the chairman of this commission.

Thus, the Straits were attached to an international status. In other words, Turkey’s rights and powers over the Straits have been severely limited. One of the most important reasons for Turkey’s acceptance of this limited sovereignty was its belief that the League of Nations, an attempt to create a large-scale collective security system established after the First World War, would work and that general disarmament would be successful. Go on. However, after the 1929 economic crisis, the arms race started again in the world and the power of the League of Nations to play an active role in the new international conjuncture was greatly diminished.

As a result, the Turkish government conveyed their demands to change the status of the straits agreement provided by the Lausanne Convention since 1933, on the grounds that the rights of the straits could not be protected and security could not be provided in Istanbul. and Dardanelles Straits, Lausanne Straits Convention.

Montreux Straits Convention (1936)

The Montreux Straits Convention was signed in 1936 as a result of Turkey’s demands to change the status of the Straits during the interwar period. With the Convention, the rules regulating the Bosphorus, Çanakkale and Marmara Sea traffic in times of war and peace were determined. The Convention was signed in Montreux, Switzerland, on 20 July 1936 by the state representatives of France, England, Bulgaria, Japan, the Soviet Union, Turkey, Romania and Yugoslavia. As of 15 August 1936, the straits were militarized by the Turkish army.

Warships Transition Regime

The Montreux Straits Convention has been drawn up for four different situations: the warships transit regime in peacetime, in wartime when Turkey is a belligerent, in wartime when Turkey is not a combatant, and when Turkey considers itself under the threat of war. Although the general principle of the agreement is free passage, arrangements have been made in favor of the Black Sea riparian countries, especially for the security of the Black Sea.

In peacetime;

  • For warships to pass through the Straits, a preliminary notification must be made to the Turkish Government through diplomacy.
  • The total tonnage of warships belonging to non-Black Sea states in the Black Sea should not exceed 30000 tons (maximum 45000 in certain cases).
  • States that are not riparian to the Black Sea cannot stay longer than 21 days from the date of entry into the Black Sea.
  • All states, regardless of their status as riparian to the Black Sea; light surface ships, small warships and auxiliary ships enjoy the freedom of passage through the Straits under certain conditions. The passage of warships and submarines outside of these classes is free to the Black Sea riparian countries.
  • The highest total tonnage of foreign naval forces in transit through the Straits cannot exceed 15000 tons and includes at most 9 ships.
  • In time of war, if Turkey is not at war, ships of states that are not at war can pass through the Straits depending on peacetime conditions, whether they are littoral or not in the Black Sea. Ships of warring states cannot pass through the Straits, with three exceptions. If the ships of warring countries are going to mooring ports, if they are going to apply the coercive measures taken by the United Nations, or if they are passing within the framework of an aid treaty to which Turkey is a party, they can pass through the Straits.
  • If Turkey is a warring party or is convinced of the threat of war, the passage of warships through the Straits is left to Turkey’s discretion.

Merchant Ships Transition Regime

According to the Montreux Convention, the passage of merchant ships also operates according to the principle of freedom. In the case of peacetime notification, merchant ships are subject only to the sanitary inspection formality, regardless of flag and cargo. Guidance and tugboat are also optional. The rules apply equally to all countries, riparian or not. In wartime, peacetime rules apply as long as Turkey is not one of the warring parties. In case Turkey is at war, the passage of merchant ships of states at war with Turkey is at Turkey’s discretion. Ships of other states can also pass through the Straits, provided that they follow the path shown and do not help the enemy Turkish states.


Mehmet Sarıusta

Hi, I'm Mehmet. I am a writer for Expat Guide Turkey and I strive to create the best content for you. To contact me, you can send an e-mail to Happy reading!

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