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Saturday, 22 June 2024
Why does Recep Erdogan need the Istanbul Canal?
Denis Korkodinov
On April 27, 2011, Recep Erdogan, then still the head of the Turkish government, announced a series of ambitious "megaprojects" timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the republic's proclamation. In addition to the construction of a new Istanbul airport and a highway connecting the Black Sea coast with the Turkish capital, the initiative to create the “Istanbul Canal”, which should connect the Black and Marmara Seas, received a wide resonance in the international community. According to government sources close to the Justice and Development Party, the project is "a culmination and epoch-making moment in the historical development of Turkey," which expects to become the only Middle East hegemon by 2023, forever pushing back the United States, Russia, Iran and China. However, from the point of view of the opponents of Recep Erdogan, the “Istanbul Canal” project not only poses a threat to the national interests of Turkey, but creates a real basis for the final consolidation of the status of an “American colony” for Ankara.

It is fair to say that the Kanal Istambul project involves the construction of seaports, logistics centers, artificial islands and new residential areas and transport arteries along the entire waterway. For this, it was decided that the projects of the Halkapi-Kapikuli high-speed train, the Yenikapi-Savakoy-Beylikduzu and Mehmetbey-Esenyurt metro lines in Istanbul, as well as the intersection of the D-100, TEM and Sazlibosna highways should be included in the direct service zone of the canal. This project is, in essence, a new variation on an idea put forward by the late Turkish Prime Minister Mustafa Bulent Ecevit ahead of the 1994 local elections. Therefore, Recep Erdogan's proposal is not exclusive. The idea of building the “Istanbul Canal” appeared long before him. However, it was he who gave this idea an exceptional political color, actually confirming his ambitions for the role of a regional usurper.

Almost immediately after the official announcement of the "megaproject" in Turkey, active work began to bring the country's regulatory framework in line with the ambitious plans of the leader of the Justice and Development Party. So, already in 2012, the Istanbul Canal project was announced as a result of the adoption of the national Environmental Plan. This was the basis for the establishment of the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning and the hasty adoption of Law No. 6306 on the transformation of areas at risk of natural disasters and the boundaries of the construction zone of the nature reserve around the Istanbul Canal. In 2014, a new concept was added to the Zoning Law - "waterways" along which naval platforms can be transported. On May 30, 2016, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock of the Republic of Turkey approved the non-agricultural use of agricultural fields in the construction zone of the new waterway. In 2018, the Law on Pastures was amended to abolish collective state ownership of pastures in this area. Following changes in the nature of pasture land ownership, the preparation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report continued throughout 2017 and 2018.

This activity slowed down for a while, and then gained momentum as a result of the signing of protocols between various institutions and the drawing up of development plans. On December 12, 2019, Recep Erdogan announced that Turkey had put forward a tender for the construction of the Istanbul Canal. On June 26, 2021, a solemn ceremony of laying the first Sozilidere bridge took place as part of the announced project.

The construction reserve zone covers a wider area surrounding the canal. Directly it includes 6 districts, 19 micro-districts, in which 316 thousand people live. We are talking about an area of 350 square kilometers, which is 6.5% of the area of Istanbul. At the moment, only 4% of this construction reserve area is residential development. 50% of the remaining area is actively used for agriculture, and 20% includes grasslands, wastelands, forestry, lake areas and water basins.

To complete the megaprojects announced by Recep Erdogan as part of the 2023 targets, Turkey will need to invest about $ 700 billion in infrastructure and $ 400 billion in urban projects, according to sources.

According to official Turkish sources, the Kanal Istanbul route consists of 163,745 plots owned or operated by 100,630 people. At the same time, the overwhelming area of land plots is currently owned by 10 largest investors, three of whom are Arab citizens. In particular, it is noted that the privileged rights to implement the Istanbul Canal project belong to the Qatari media tycoon Abdullah bin Ahmed el-Hashimi, as well as the mother of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Moza bin Nasser al-Missned, December 14, 2019 through his company Triple M Gayrimenkul Turizm Ticaret Anonim irketi "acquired a huge 44 hectare plot of land in Baklaly around the waterway.

Among other things, investors in the Istanbul Canal include Saudi businessman Suleiman Al-Muhaidib, who in 2015 bought 99 hectares under five plots within the ambitious project; Shurak Al Ajdad Real Estate, Tourism, Construction and Trade Corp., which owns 125.4 hectares, and Qatari investor group Qatari Diar.

On April 30, 2021, the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport of Turkey, Adil Karaismailoglu, said that financial institutions are showing interest in the project.In order to gain direct access to the ports of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, Beijing is extremely interested in cooperation with the Turks. Back in 2018, China intended to invest about $ 65 billion in the project. The direct beneficiaries, in this case, were the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Bank of China, the British bank HSBC based in Hong Kong, and the China Merchants Group. However, the commercial deal was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on this, we can conclude that, despite the patriotic statements of Recep Erdogan, the Istanbul Canal project is a foreign project and is completely unrelated to the national interests of Ankara, since the share of Turkish participation in it is minimal.
The financing of the "Kanal Istanbul" route is currently very doubtful. Guided by the UN principles of "Responsible Banking", most Turkish banks, among which the most prominent roles are played by "Garanti Bank", "İş Bank" and "Yapı Kredi", refuse to invest in the project, primarily due to environmental problems and uncertainty. the political future of Recep Erdogan himself. In addition, critics of the Turkish leader blame him for starting the implementation of the "mega-project" in the midst of a severe economic crisis, a pandemic, as well as against the background of an extremely low level of electoral support.

Some experts and world leaders questioned the rationale of the Istanbul Canal, believing that the main reason for the construction of the new waterway was the intention to circumvent the Montreux Convention, which limits the number and tons of ships from non-Black Sea countries that can enter the Bosphorus. Among other things, a number of critics of Recep Erdogan point to direct harm to Turkey, which could face catastrophic environmental and economic consequences if the construction of the new waterway is completed. In particular, the opposition mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, has repeatedly appealed to the national government to cancel the Istanbul Canal project, arguing that the project requires mandatory exploration in an area of 2.1 billion square meters from the Black Sea, right up to the strait The Dardanelles, as well as land exploration to avoid serious environmental imbalances.

A similar opinion is shared by the head of the Istanbul Canal Association, Aisha Ekce. As part of their funded research, prepared by the Turkish University of Khacchi Tepe, the completion of the project will require the cutting of forest trees in the north at the Black Sea coastline, which threatens to reduce oxygen levels in the water, as well as the extinction of many species of marine life.

Such criticism of the construction of the "Istanbul Canal" has now become especially popular among opponents of Recep Erdogan, among whom the most prominent role is played by representatives of the Turkish scientific establishment. In particular, the Turkish leader's "megaproject" is opposed by: in the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality - Yigit Oguz Duman (Mayor's Advisor), Ibrahim Orhan Demir (Deputy Secretary General), Yasin Chagatai Sechin (Head of the Department of Parks, Gardens and Green Spaces), Mahir Polat ( Head of the Department of Cultural Property); Chigdem Toker (journalist and writer), Fikret Adaman (Bosphorus University, Faculty of Economics), Ahsen Yüksek (Istanbul University, Faculty of Marine Science and Management), Derin Orkhon (Middle East University, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering), Doganay Tolunay (Istanbul University, Faculty of Forestry Cherrahpasha), Sedat Kalem (World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Director of Turkey Conservation) and many others.

According to their point of view, the "Istanbul Canal" could lead to a rapid deterioration of the water bodies of Istanbul and Thrace. The project will completely destroy the Sazlidere Dam, which can provide water to 1.35 million residents of Istanbul. Likewise, the southeastern watershed of Lake Terkos will disappear. In addition, new housing projects under the Istanbul Canal will require additional demand for water from Lake Buyukcekmece. The city, which is already trying to supply water from the Melen River, will not be able to meet this demand. However, the most terrible consequence may be associated with the breakthrough of the fault line of the earth's crust under the Sea of Marmara, which creates a huge risk of an earthquake with a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale.

Leaders of Turkey's main opposition parties Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Meral Aksener have sent convincing signals to the international community and prospective financiers that loan guarantees will be limited by Recep Erdogan's term in office.

Many countries of the international community also doubt the importance of the Istanbul Canal, rightly considering it a new sea route that will allow the North Atlantic Alliance to establish military bases in the Black Sea. Such conclusions are quite justified, given that Washington has never actually recognized the Montreux Convention, demanding for itself unhindered access to the Black Sea.

The idea for this project originated in the White House administration back in 1950 in order to defend Istanbul from a possible Soviet invasion or attack from the west. In addition, a bill presented to the US Senate in 2006 stated that "the Montreux Agreement concerning the Istanbul and Dardanelles straits has expired and that this agreement should be modified in accordance with current conditions." This opinion was officially expressed by the US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson, speaking in the Turkish capital on March 3, 2006. He said the following word for word: “The Montreux Treaty is pretty clear. And we want to take advantage of our rights arising from our presence in the Black Sea. That is, our ships can come here if necessary. "

According to the professor of forestry at Istanbul University, member of the Faculty of Soil Science and Ecology Mehmet Dogan Kantarji, the Kanal Istambul project, after World War II, Washington began a large-scale campaign to develop defense projects aimed at neutralizing potential military interventions by the Soviet-Chinese bloc in European countries and Turkey. As part of this activity, the project for the construction of the "Istanbul Canal" appeared, which is currently being actively promoted by the Turkish leadership in order, first of all, to promote American strategic interests in opposing the military-political plans of Moscow and Beijing.

Turkish opposition journalist Aytunch Altyndal, in an interview given to the Kanal Turk news agency on April 26, 2006, also publicly stated that the United States is the only beneficiary of the Istanbul Canal project. Subsequently, on November 18, 2013, Aytunch Altyndal died under mysterious circumstances. According to close relatives of the correspondent, he was poisoned with polonium-213, although the cause of death has not yet been officially established.

The United States is extremely interested in the Istanbul Canal project. In particular, back in 2009, US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey proposed to retired Vice Admiral Attila Kiyat to encourage the Turks to initiate this creation of a new waterway to the Black Sea, arguing that “no one can do anything when both Turkey and the United States want it. ".

Based on this, Washington is urging Recep Erdogan to complete construction in order to, thereby, obtain the possibility of repealing the fundamental norms of the Montreux Convention: 1) standardizing the notification period of up to 15 days for all warships, 2) limiting the duration of presence in the Black Sea for no more than 21 days , 3) restrictions on the tonnage of warships, 4) a ban on aircraft carriers from access to the Black Sea, 5) restrictions on the tonnage of merchant ships.

The surprise attack by the United States to repeal the Montreux Convention was not unreasonable. The American military command is in favor of the accelerated development of the initiative, whose leaders expect to get an additional foothold for a potential military conflict with Russia.

If this plan works, and the United States through Turkey really intends to gain direct access to the Black Sea by 2023, then Recep Erdogan, in this case, advocating for the construction of the Istanbul Canal, acts as an “American puppet”.

by: Denis Korkodinov