>A few words about Montreux

>The armed conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 brought the Montreux Convention, which can be regarded as a very technical and almost obscure treaty into the stage lights. This treaty was the result of a diplomatic solution to the problem on who was going to control the Turkish Straits.

The treaty of Lausanne officially ended the presence of Ottoman Empire and recognized the new Turkish republic. However, one important issue that this treaty did not solve was the control of the Turkish Straits.

The region surrounding the Turkish Straits was demilitarized as dictated by the treaty of Lausanne and the passage of ships was regulated by an international body called The Straits Commission. The regulation was much simple and straightforward allowing unrestricted civilian and military traffic.

In 1936 Turkey called for a conference about to change the status of Turkish Straits.Upon this call, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Japan, England, Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, USSR and Turkey held a conference about the issue between 21 June and 20 July 1936 in Montreux, Switzerland.

Interestingly USA, where today the Montreux Convention is much debated, did neither participate the conference, nor sent a representative to observe the negotiations.

The convention consisting of 29 articles, four annexes and one protocol was duly signed by the participants on 20th July 1936.

The Montreux Convention gave Turkey the sovereignty of the Straits while allowing merchant shipping unhindered passage. After the treaty was signed, Turkey started to remilitarize the Straits immediately. As a result, Istanbul was no longer defenseless, which was crucial for Turkey, as the dooming Second World War came closer. The treaty granted Turkey the authority to close the Straits to any maritime movement, if Turkey’s security was threatened.

Montreux regulates the passage of military ships in detail. The treaty makes a distinction between Black Sea nations and non Black Sea nations. The navies of Black Sea nations enjoy freedom of movement through the Straits to a certain degree. On the other hand, the treaty strictly regulates the type of warships that non Black Sea navies can send to the Black Sea, according to the ships’ armament and displacement specifications. The duration of stay of the warship belonging to a non Black Sea nation in the Black sea is noted as no more than 21 days. The number of warships that non Black Sea navies can have in the Black Sea at the same time is limited to a total of nine.

Policing of Montreux has not been always easy. During the Cold War years Turkey was criticized by USA and by USSR for allowing other side’s ships pass.

Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the convention has proved a mixed blessing, as the Bosporus and Dardanelles have become a tanker turnpike; and under the terms of Montreux, Turkey cannot even collect toll or insist that merchantmen use pilots to navigate the sinuous channel. The Turkish Straits now see traffic of around 50,000 vessels annually, a number that includes nearly 5,000 tankers, making the passage the world’s second busiest maritime strait after the Straits of Malacca and the only one that bisects a major city, Istanbul. In 2006 10,154 tankers transited the channel.

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