Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week took the first steps towards the construction of the project that is his dream but that he himself called crazy. We are talking about a 45 km canal that will connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and will serve as an alternative to the Bosphorus strait, which crosses Istanbul and divides Europe from Asia. Expected to cost $15 million (experts claim it will cost four times as much) the project is criticized by the opposition, which warns not only of funding but also environmental problems.
“We see the Istanbul canal as a project to save the future of Istanbul,” Erdogan said at the ceremony for the construction of a bridge of less than one kilometer, which will cross the future canal and connects other infrastructure projects in the area. “We are opening a new page in the history of Turkey’s development.”
This is not the first megaproject of the president, who inaugurated the new Istanbul airport in 2018, Turkey’s largest mosque in 2019, and before that, when he was still prime minister in 2013, the railway tunnel over the Bosphorus.
The goal of the new canal, which is to be completed in six years, is to ease traffic in the Bosphorus. 45,000 ships pass through it every year and the government predicts that there could be 78,000 by 2050. The strait, one of the most important sea trade routes, has strong currents, tight turns, and ferries are constantly connecting the two shores. Last week, two fishermen died when a ship collided with their boat.
But critics, including the opposition mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, warn of the project’s costs, indicating that no ship will want to pay to cross the canal when it can use the Bosphorus for free. In addition, there are environmental risks, with the canal posing a risk to the local ecosystem, with some also warning of problems in the event of earthquakes. In practice, the canal would create an “island” to the Bosphorus where eight million people could be stranded, with more urban development also planned along the canal.
Then there are the military issues. Since the 1936 Montreaux Convention, Ankara controls the strait where passage of ships in peacetime is free, but restricts passage of military ships that do not belong to Black Sea countries (and there is also a limitation on their tonnage or the weapons they can carry). In the case of countries that have no Black Sea coastline, the ships can only stay for 21 days. Erdogan has already admitted that the new canal would not be subject to these rules.
Shores: côte, littoral
Earthquake: tremblement de terre
Stranded: bloqué, coincé