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The story of Varyag's passage through the Turkish Straits

T-SaGe

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Maybe many of you know: exactly 20 years ago, on 1 November 2001, an old soviet aircraft carrier had passed through the straits without rudder or engine after very heated diplomatic traffic and great hagglings were expreinced in China,Ukraine and Turkey triangle. All were stands at one of the corner of the story of China's acquisition of its first aircraft carrier, with tremendously intense diplomacy , full of lies, many promises, maybe bribes, but certainly a lot of political worries and political conflicts. Under this thread, I will try to share the articles of the state officials of the period that deal with what happened in this process.


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Ramazan Mirzaoğlu (minister of state in charge of maritime in 2001)

Like Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, Varyag was a ship that was 70% completed by laying a sled in the Black Sea shipyard during the USSR period. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it passed under the responsibility of the Ukrainian state. After several unsuccessful attempts, a business man from Hong Kong finally bought this with bargain price of $ 20 million. They were advertising outside that it would be the world's largest recreational ship, but the main purpose was the aircraft carrier.

However, it had to pass through the Turkish Straits to go to China, they asked for permission. This semi-finished giant ship, which 306.5 m long and 72 m wide, had no engine and rudder system. Only the Istanbul Port Authority could give permission to pass for passing. However, it was not possible for Varyag to pass safely through the Straits. Therefore, the issue was passed on to me as the Minister Responsible for Maritime Affairs. We did not allow the passage.

The issue was transferred to the government. Under the chairmanship of the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, Minister of Foreign Affairs Şükrü Sina Gürel, myself as the Minister of State, and the 2nd Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt met and discussed the issue. Despite the positive opinion of the Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of State and the General Staff were opposed, especially since this huge raft without an engine and rudder would pose a danger in the Straits. Therefore, ship passage was not allowed. According to the Montreux Agreement, Turkish state has control, security and maritime traffic responsibilities. Passages are free, but security is essential.

The Chinese state was insistent that the ship was taken away. The Chinese Ambassador repeatedly came to the State Ministry and the Prime Minister and made many promises. But there was no result. I have been invited to China many times regarding the issue. I did not respond positively to these invitations. After that, first Admiral Ilhami Erdil, then Commander of the Naval Forces, and then Chief of General Staff General Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu and one of the Deputy Prime Ministers invited to China. After these visits, our Prime Minister called us to the meeting again . This time, the representative of the General Staff changed his opinion. I was left alone. However, I have listed the measures to be taken for safe passage through the Straits.

After a while, the Chinese Ambassador came to me as the State Minister in charge of Maritime, saying that they have taken the necessary measures. I discussed this issue with the experts of the Undersecretariat of Maritime Affairs. We did not find the measures taken sufficient. Thereupon, the Chinese Government applied to the Prime Minister.The late Prime Minister Ecevit personally wrote to me letterr about the Strait passing of Varyag twice. I also expressed my opinion by stating that I do not see the measures taken enough and that safe passage is not possible under these conditions. In meantime, Varyag roamed in Black Sea for 18 months, without rudder or motor. During this period, I had a planned overseas visit to another country. Unfortunately, they signed the Decree of the Council of Ministers on Varyag's passage with another minister which has power of attorney because of my overseas visit. Varyag was passed through the Straits with numerous towing tugboats. Fortunately, the accident did not occur.

Varyag was caught in a storm off Egriboz Island in the Aegean Sea. The ropes were broken. Varyag began to drift. Many seafarers were rescued by Greek coast guards. Still, a Dutch sailor drowned. Egypt did not allow it to pass through the Suez Canal. Varyag traveled across Africa and arrive China passing through Cape in three months. After long journey, She was taken to China's Dalian Shipyard. It was worked on for 9 years and turned into an aircraft carrier in 2011. Its name was changed to Liaoning. It launched in 2012 as China's first aircraft carrier. Now she sail in the warm waters of the Eastern Mediterranean to support Syria with 24 warplanes,12 helicopters, defense and attack missiles.[1] By the way, it will be useful to add; What had China promised us? Among the most interesting, The Chinese state had promised to Turkey's that 2.5 million tourists will visit every year.
1-(This article was written on November 4, 2015 on the news that the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag was coming to the Mediterranean.)


 

T-SaGe

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Suat Çağlayan (57th government minister under Ecevit prime ministry)

In March 2001, while I was serving as the Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Chinese Ambassador Yao Kuangyi came to my room by appointment. He speaks Turkish very well due to the residance in Turkey for many years. The reason for his arrival was take my assistance in Varyag's passage through the straits.Varyag was unfinished ship that started to be built as an aircraft carrier in Ukraine during the time of the USSR. It was said that 67% of shipbuilding was completed at that time.

The ship, whose construction was halted during the collapse of the Soviets, was later left to Ukraine by Russia.When it was put up for sale in this form, it was bought by a Chinese company (Chinese state actually) for 20 million dollars. Although the ship had begun to be built as an aircraft carrier, it had neither an engine nor a rudder, as it was left only as a platform. She could only be sailed with tugboats.

China had to take this ship from the Black Sea and pass it through the straits in order to bring it to its country. However, MHP deputy and Ministry of Maritime Affairs of the coalition government established under Ecevit's Prime Ministry did not allow the passage. Although it was started to be built as a warship, Varyag was not a battleship but a floating platform in this imperfect state. So even if it had the potential to be an aircraft carrier in the future, it could not be considered as combat platform at that time.

At what percentage should an aircraft under construction have to be complete in order to be treated like a warship? Although there is no clear definition of this according to international rules, two criteria were taken into account in such an evaluation; the first is whether the ship is moving on its own, that is, whether it has a rudder and an engine. The other was whether this ship was equipped with the equipment that would enable the warplanes to take off and land. However, neither of these were available on this platform ship.

According to the Montreux Straits Convention, one reason could be put forward for not allowing this platform to pass through the Straits; During the passage of the platform, the settlement on the Bosphorus and the safety of maritime traffic may be endangered. But Chinese companies (Chinese Government?), said they both take any transitional measures and had prepared a billion dollar letter of guarantee to give Turkey.

Ambassador Yao came to me almost once a week, giving information about Varyag's latest situation and the position of the Undersecretariat of Maritime Affairs.

I was first communicating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then with the Undersecretariat of Maritime Affairs and I was gathering all the informations together with I learned from the Ambassador. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had said that Montreux as it is, was not an obstacle to Varyag's passage. In my meeting with the Undersecretariat of Maritime Affairs affiliated to the MHP's State Minister, 'security' concerns were raised. However, a very different dimension of this stance emerged later.

This is what a high-ranking official, who did not want her name to be mentioned at the time, spoke in our private conversation: "Of course, the security of the Bosphorus is important. But there is something more important that our ministry takes into consideration: the pressure that the Chinese state is exerting on the Uyghur Turks!" So apparently security was not the only reason why the ship was not passed. MHP's Minister, Ramazan Mirzaoğlu, wanted to prevent China from owning this ship with the idea that "China is exerting pressure on the Uighur Turks."

This behavior was in line with the world view of Mr. Minister from the MHP. However, as the DSP wing of the coalition, we had to respect international rules and allow this platform to pass.

I made an appointment with the late Ecevit and went to the Prime Ministry and explained the situation. After listening with interest, he said that; "I asked the Minister to grant passage to this ship. Let's wait and see,".

When I explained the situation to the Ambassador, he started to wait with hope. Time was passing, but there was no positive news. The Ambassador's greatest fear was not the passage of time, but that the weather deteriorated with the autumn and the transition became really harder.

When there was no news, I wanted to bring the situation to the attention of the Prime Minister once again. One day he attended the General Assembly of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, while chatting backstage, I brought the issue to Varyag. I said, "Sir, the weather is getting worse. If it's late, it could be really hard to get through the Bosphorus." He looked at me with a troubled expression and; "Hasn't the ship still passed? Whereas I requested," he said, "I'll deal with the matter again!" he added.

A few days after this conversation, on November 1, 2001, Varyag went smoothly through the straits with tugboat.

Against the unipolar world...

Even though it was officially said that this platform would be just an entertainment center, we knew what the purpose was. The late Ecevit also knew this. However, we should not have prevented the passage of a platform ship by saying “This is an aircraft carrier”. Besides that, also we had another responsibility.

China had the potential to become a balance of power in a world that became unipolar with the dissolution of the Soviets and after balances were upside down. Even if China's intention was turn this platform into an aircraft carrier on which warplanes land and take off, it could be in benefit of the whole world because of this country could create a balance of power against US. Although this thought underlies my contributions to Varyag's transition, of course I would not have taken steps to facilitate the transitionif there was a definition contrary to this transition in the Montreux Convention.

Whether it is being used as an aircraft carrier or for any other purpose, The work done is right if it has been a balancing act against the forces that threaten world peace.

In this post, I have never touched upon the Chinese promises for this pass, if you are aware. Because they were just words that could not be understood whether they would be fulfilled or not, before they were put into practice.

Promise of China to send millions of tourists was one them. And their promises that the ship will be just a recreational ship. I wish they would never have said that. But maybe they did these 'ethical compulsions' because they were desperate, who knows!

 

Beast

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Nonsense report from turkey site.. in 1998, China is still a poor country and where is the large pool of high spending Chinese tourist available to spend money on turkey?

Turkey blackmail China until we offer condition of transferring WS-100 rocket technology to turkey with production line and know how.

In 1998, not a single issue of Uighur problem mention by any countries. Coincidentally, the issue of Uighur in China was only raise when China become powerful enough that threaten western global reach in the early 2010.

@siegecrossbow @shi12jun @ChineseTiger1986
 
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T-SaGe

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I am just trying to translate the columns written by the state ministers and coalition members of the period on the subject. Nothing but the statements of former ministers. My aim here is also to reveal the differences of opinion within former government. In order to be able to accept the information you have given as correct and others completly nonsense, I need to know your (or peoples holding the allegations) identity, academic background and position and need to compare.
 

T-SaGe

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Nonsense report from turkey site.. in 1998, China is still a poor country and where is the large pool of high spending Chinese tourist available to spend money on turkey?

Turkey blackmail China until we offer condition of transferring WS-100 rocket technology to turkey with production line and know how.

In 1998, not a single issue of Uighur problem mention by any countries. Coincidentally, the issue of Uighur in China was only raise when China become powerful enough that threaten western global reach in the early 2010.

@siegecrossbow @shi12jun @ChineseTiger1986
I'm old enough to remember that this 'tourist' claim has been confirmed many times by the ministers of the 57th government, as well as subjected by the news for a long time. Turkish public was convinced, precisely for this reason. Did Jiang Zemin really make such a promise or it was an illusion of the government, i dont know that. However, there is no wrong translation above. The following part contains some answers to your claims, even if im not happy to move away from the context.

  • Claim: Chinese officials didnt made any promises
Still not a clear subject. During Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan visit to Turkey in January 2001, Chinese side has refrained from using the self-binding statement about it. But besides that very sincere messages were given to the Turkish public and were tried to be influence public opinion about issue. Although its content higly speculative, many agreements signed about economic and tourism sectors, during Zhu Rongji's visit in April 2002.

  • Claim:WS-1 missiles were given to TR, in exchange for Varyag's Strait pass.
Not really. The concrete step towards defense industry between China and Turkey were laid in 1996. Turkey and China had agreed on $ 150 million package of WS-1 missile purchase and signed an production agreement. Again on this topic: Chief of Staff Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu visited Beijing in June 2001(mentioned above) as part of military cooperation with China. Kıvrıkoğlu carried out elimination of some problems in projects and made contacts in order to develop and continue the cooperation further.
  • And a brief overview of the Uyghur issue between the two countries
State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bahçeli also visited China between 27 May and 1 June 2002. Bahçeli also visited Urumqi and Kashgar and became top state official who visited East Turkistan until then. The permission of the Chinese authorities to allow Deputy Prime Minister Bahceli's East Turkestan visit can be described as a gesture due to the bilateral relations in a good political line at the time.

Contrary to the claim you wrote above, China has been very sensitive about the Uyghur even in 1980s. In the 80s, while relations were going very well at a high level, there was a development that increased tension. China Commercial Counselor in Ankara Embassy, Mohammad Niyazi sought asylum for life safety, in 1986. This development has led to the termination of the China's 'using Xinjiang people for rapprochement with Turkey' policy. East Turkistan opposition leader Isa Yusuf Alptekin was another, his activities caused many problems between Turkey and China. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, some circles in Turkey thought that China could share similar fate. This perception disorder led many mutual misunderstanding in bileteral relationship. Wu Koming, the Chinese Ambassador Ankara had repeatedly issued a condemnation message due to the increasing awareness about Uighurs in 94-95. After 1996, relations started to get back on track again. Many high-level military delegations and politicians visited China between 96-2001. During Jiang Zemin's visit to Turkey in April 2000, relations peaked again and has signed numerous bilateral agreements. Giving necessary permissions for Varyag was also within the scope of this visit.

Dude, read before post.
Sorry for typo. When this post was written ( in 2015), it was speculated that China planning to send its AC to Eastern Mediterranean. Besides the general content, I also wanted to translate briefly what the former minister had felt on that subject.
 
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