The Turkish president wants to build a second waterway next to the Bosphorus. Experts from various disciplines express alarm.
Demonstration against Erdogan’s canal project in Istanbul on Friday Photo: reuters
It is a disaster. It will destroy Istanbul. We must prevent it at all costs. No, on the contrary. Istanbul will be saved, it will become even more beautiful and even richer. Views on what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has called a "crazy project" to build a second waterway, a kind of Turkish Suez Canal, alongside the Bosporus could not be more controversial.
And no wonder, because of all the gigantic projects Erdogan has graced Turkey with during his 17-year reign, the so-called "Istanbul Canal" would be by far the most gigantic. If the canal is actually built to the west of the city, in the direction of Bulgaria, as planned, the European part of Istanbul will become an island. The Black Sea to the north, the Bosporus to the east, the Sea of Marmara to the south and the canal to the west.
"He’s completely nuts now," our neighbor Ahmet is convinced. "If there’s an earthquake, we won’t be able to leave. We’ll be sitting on an island." Since Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem İmamoglu announced his firm opposition to Erdogan’s "crazy project" a few days ago, nothing else has been talked about in Istanbul but the canal.
Geologists, hydrologists, ecologists, experts of all kinds are speaking out. What they have to say is highly alarming. Through the canal, Istanbul would lose important, others say crucial, water resources. The construction of the canal would increase the risk of earthquakes. Even worse: the canal would decisively change the water balance in the Sea of Marmara, part of this inland sea could overturn, i.e. die ecologically.
Declaration of war on Erdogan
In his press conference, which amounted to a declaration of war on Erdogan, Mayor İmamoglu dropped yet another bombshell. According to Istanbul’s land registry office, 30 million square meters of land have recently been sold along the planned canal route. As cheap farmland, of course, which would become the most expensive building land after the canal is built. 30 million square meters, that’s more than the entire old city of Istanbul.
But the real kicker is that the speculators who have grabbed the land come from Arabia. The three largest companies are from Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Is Erdogan serving his Arab Islamist friends here? Is a "Muslim Brotherhood" canal zone to be built there, as many opposition politicians believe?
One of the major investors is the mother of the sheikh of Qatar. "So what!" shouted Erdogan in his usual staccato in a speech to his parliamentary group, "if it were Hans and George, no one would object." Only it’s not Hans and George, because major Western investors are wary of investing $25, $30 or much more billion in a project whose economic output is highly dubious.
According to the government’s presentation, such ships are to use the canal and pay for it that are no longer willing to put up with the long waiting times that are required for a Bosphorus passage. The Bosphorus passage is free of charge, but waiting times are expensive in the international transport business. Shipping companies would rather pay money for a passage through the canal.
Gigantic land speculation
An economist friend of mine says that this is a milkmaid’s calculation. The number of oil tankers passing through the Bosporus is constantly decreasing because more and more pipelines are being built.
The suspicion remains that the "crazy project" is more of a political one and, above all, a gigantic land speculation at Istanbul’s expense.
Three days ago, the Ministry of Environment publicly displayed an audit report, which the city’s residents can now object to. Despite the rain and cold, long lines of people formed outside the relevant offices to object. It looks like the majority is fed up with Erdogan’s crazy projects.