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Erdogan’s ‘crazy’ canal project could turn into Turkey’s white elephant




May 4, 2021 12:14 PM IS

By John Solomou
Nicosia [Cyprus], May 4 (ANI): Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after trying to change the country’s history through his involvement in numerous conflicts in the Middle East and Nagorno-Karabakh, seems determined to change the geography also in trying to create a second strait Bosporus.
His plan is to dig an artificial channel 45 kilometers long, parallel to the Bosphorus, connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Marmara. But this grandiose project, which Erdogan himself once called ‘crazy’, could turn out to be a white elephant that is supposed to cause a huge ecological disaster, anger the people of Istanbul and create problems with the environment. Russia.
Erdogan has always had a strong penchant for megaprojects, like the world’s largest airport in Istanbul, a rail tunnel under the Bosphorus, a third bridge over the Bosphorus, a giant mosque, a billion dollar port complex and a 1000-room presidential palace in Ankara. . In this way, he created thousands of new jobs, distributed lucrative jobs to his buddies, and increased his power base.
However, some of these projects did not yield the results expected by the Turkish president. For example, the Italian-Turkish consortium operating the Third Bosphorus Bridge and the Marmara Highway has moved away from the project and is expected to be replaced by a Chinese consortium. In addition, Istanbul airport, mainly due to the devastating effect of the pandemic, is losing money and the Turkish government is trying to convince Chinese bank ICB to refinance around $ 6.2 billion of its loans. .
The cost of the Istanbul Canal is expected to be between $ 13 billion and $ 25 billion. Planning for the project began in 2011, but it has been on the back burner for years. According to the Turkish government, the canal will help moderate traffic through the Bosporus, reducing the number of ships and tankers passing through Istanbul.
It is difficult to understand why the mercurial Turkish president announced last month that the tenders for the construction of the canal project would be awarded very soon. He argues that the project will attract much-needed investment and boost economic activity, while the government estimates that the canal’s annual transit fee will be around USD 5 billion.

Opponents of the project say that in addition to uncontrolled development of buildings, the Istanbul Canal project will put the country in deep and unnecessary debt, while Turkey is currently facing massive external debt, inflation rate above 17% and depleted foreign exchange reserves.
Economist Mustafa Sonmez asserts that the project “lacks economic rationality, while the Bosphorus already guarantees good shipping conditions and allows sufficient passage”.
Turkish environmentalists hate the project as it will destroy large wooded areas bordering the Black Sea, damage Istanbul’s freshwater resources and ecosystem, while it would lead to the creation of a second city with an estimated population of two million along its shores. In addition, it will cut off land west of Istanbul that could be used as an evacuation zone in the event of a major earthquake hitting the country’s largest city, which sits on an active fault.
Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of the opposition CHP party is the loudest national opponent of the canal project. He calls the project “Istanbul betrayal” and “assassination project” and ended the cooperation protocol that the former mayor, who was a supporter of Erdogan, had concluded with the government. Imamoglu says large plots of land have already been sold to wealthy Arab investors and members of royal families.
Asli Aydintasbas, senior policy researcher at the European Council on External Relations, underlines: “It is already clear that Erdogan’s project is about to become the next big battle in Turkish politics. The Istanbul Canal is an ambitious real estate development that can harm the environment. and destroy Turkey’s struggling economy. The opposition is adamant about fighting it, and Erdogan seems adamant about building it. “
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials insist the new canal would allow Turkey to quash the 1936 Montreux Convention – a treaty that guarantees free passage for civilian ships and gives Turkey has considerable control over the passage of non-black warships. Sea states. The president’s allies say Erdogan can revoke the Montreux Convention if he wishes. But such a move would put Turkey on a collision course with Russia.
Without a doubt, the biggest foreign critic of the canal project is Russia who fears that Turkey, bypassing the Montreux Convention, will build a new way for NATO warships to enter the Black Sea. The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin in an appeal to Erdogan last month “stressed the importance of preserving the 1936 pact”. A few days later, Erdogan clarified his position by declaring: “We currently have no effort or intention to leave the Montreux Convention”.
A week ago, six Turkish banks, citing environmental concerns, said they likely would not invest in the canal. However, Chinese banks have stepped in, saying they are ready to provide multi-billion dollar financing, as they believe the project can fit into Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
David Lepeska, a journalist specializing in Turkey, said: “Due to the economic turmoil and declining AKP support, the most likely outcome for Canal Istanbul could be the Bridge to Nowhere scenario, in which the construction would start, then stop indefinitely if Erdogan were voted in. But even if the canal does come to fruition, it may not be seen as Erdogan’s crowning glory, but as an early sign of the conquest of the great Ottoman capital by the China. (ANI)

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