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No easy passage for the Erdogans canal map

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What if there was another way?

Photographer: Kerem Uzel / Bloomberg

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is famous for mega-projects. Under his leadership, Turkey built one of the largest airports in the world in Istanbul, the most complicated tunnel under the Bosphorus Strait and one of the largest suspension bridges connecting Asia to Europe. Critics have accused him of completing his own legacy with these grand projects, but most of them have been popular with Turkish audiences.

None of them sparked the controversy that now surrounds Erdogan’s latest oversized venture: an artificial canal, titled Canal Istanbul, parallel to the Bosphorus between the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Black Sea.

The project has been challenged by environmentalists who fear it will destroy Istanbul’s natural habitat and erode freshwater reservoirs. Others questioned the financial viability of the project, with the Turkish government providing various estimates ranging from $ 12.7 billion to $ 25 billion.

The fate of a 1936 is also at stake. Montreux Convention, an international agreement regulating traffic through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles Strait.

Things peaked last week, when Speaker of Parliament Mustafa Sentop suggested Erdogan had the power to withdraw from the treaty. He later claimed he was simply taking stock of presidential powers and not politics, but it was enough to alarm a group of former Turkish admirals to issue a joint statement opposing the idea and arguing that the convention was essential for maintaining peace in the dark. Wed.

In turn, this prompted Erdogan to summon his cabinet and senior officials for an unscheduled meeting. Ten of the signatories of the declaration have been arrested, the president’s communications director accusing them of insinuating that the government should be overthrown.

Erdogan has since said he had no intention to repeal the convention. But he did not explain how he intends to reconcile the economy of his dream of a canal with the realities imposed by the treaty.

The Istanbul Canal should be built under the build-own-operate investment model, to avoid a drain on state resources in the event of high stress due to the pandemic. But to recoup the required investment, the private entrepreneur would need a significant stream of income – and the convention makes that impossible.

According to its terms, Turkey cannot prevent ships from using the Dardanelles and Bosphorus sea lanes, which means it cannot force transit ships to use the proposed canal. Turkey is allowed to charge only nominal fees for these crossings, currently averaging around $ 4,500 per vessel. Only a significantly lower transit charge would provide an incentive to use the Istanbul Canal, and the difference would have to be offset by a higher volume of traffic.

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