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Canal Istanbul: the “crazy” and controversial project of Recep Tayyip Erdogan

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By laying the first stone of the Sazlidere Bridge, one of the six viaducts that will span the Istanbul Canal, the Turkish president launched on Saturday what he calls his “crazy project”: the boring of a canal between the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Marmara, which arouses mistrust and concern in Turkey. Our Istanbul correspondent provides an update.

During a ceremony organized on the Sazlidere site, Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on Saturday June 27 on the historic nature of his mega-project. “It is not a ceremony to inaugurate a fountain”, he launched in front of a conquered parterre, in the presence of the Minister of Transport and Industry Adil Karaismailoğlu and all the caciques of his party, the AKP .

With its 45 kilometers long, 275 meters wide and 21 meters deep, this new canal spanned by six bridges will be 30 times safer than the Bosphorus, of which it will reduce traffic by 90%, according to the Turkish president. The site is to last six years and its cost is estimated at 15 billion dollars … The figures follow one another in the mouth of the Turkish President who repeats the same argument: the Bosphorus Strait is too busy, which sometimes forces ships to wait for whole days before borrowing it. It is also hardly practicable for the giants of the seas.

The culmination of the long series of mega projects launched by this builder president since he came to power 19 years ago, this project will be a source of pride for the Turkish people, a new achievement that the world will envy them, assures Recep. Tayyip Erdogan. Except that public opinion is not convinced, in particular that of Istanbul. The Head of State may well summon the memory of Mehmet II the conqueror – did he not go so far as to “send his ships by land” when he captured Constantinople in 1453? – his project still arouses strong resistance.

Disastrous consequences for the environment

The Turkish president cites numerous academic reports to push back the fears, but environmental experts are skeptical. First, because the canal will be dug in a wooded area crossed by springs and rivers that have always been connected to Istanbul’s distribution network since the 17th century. This is one of the reasons why the current mayor of Istanbul Erkrem Imamoglu, (CHP, opposition center right), aware that 40% of the‘water supply from his city comes from the European side, is headlong against the project.

Secondly, because the new canal risks upsetting the natural balance of currents and counter-currents between the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Marmara. Some specialists predict that this artificial channel will act like a siphon that will suck up all the polluted waters of the Black Sea which will end up in the Mediterranean Sea.

Deaf to these objections, Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks of the new canal as “the most eco-responsible project in the world” and considers that by unblocking the Bosporus, the new seaway will participate in safeguarding the ecosystem of the Sea of ​​Marmara , recently invaded by a proliferation of “sea ​​snot“(a viscous foam that periodically invades the coast of northwestern Turkey under the combined action of pollution and global warming). Here again, the experts see things differently: they consider, on the contrary, that the Sea of ​​Marmara risk of being even more polluted with the construction of this canal.

Funding that questions

For almost 20 years in power, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has radically changed the face of his country by resorting to a frenzied policy of major works. Highways, tunnels, bridges, dams, airports … During his speech this Saturday, the president for example cited the case of the Osman Ghazi Bridge, which crosses the Gulf of Izmir to take motorists on the Izmir highway, leaving from Istanbul from the east. A project whose mode of financing challenges.

Indeed, based on very optimistic reports, the government launched this project by guaranteeing the operator a certain number of toll entrances. Alas, in 2020, the Turkish treasury had to pay more than 3 billion Turkish liras (more than 28 million euros) to the company Otoyol Yatırım A.Ş because attendance turned out to be much lower than the figures mentioned in the contract.

Asked by CNN Türk Saturday, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructures confirmed it: “Of course there will be a guarantee of passages (for the Istanbul Canal), Turkey is one of the countries which has accomplished the most in the world by having recourse to this funding model. “

A guarantee of passage therefore, which is once again based on optimistic forecasts: a report commissioned by the same Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure predicts that in 2026, 54,900 vessels will take the new route and 68,000 in 2039, so that over the past 10 years, traffic in the Bosporus has fallen from 53,000 to 38,000 ships per year, due to the increasing number of new pipelines, and the decision of some countries to reduce their dependence on hydrocarbons.

Take the Bosphorus Strait is and will remain free

The tanker traffic should thus continue to decrease. And we must add to this a fact that carriers will certainly keep in mind: crossing the Bosphorus, even if that means waiting and not involving risks, is and will remain free.

The president can assure that his project “will not cost a cent” to the taxpayer and “will reimburse itself”, a survey published on Monday shows that more than 60% of those questioned reject the use of the guarantee of passage.

Against the advice of his own public opinion, against the Turkish banks which affirmed not to be ready to run such a risk, Recep Tayyip Erdogan goes so far as to defend the foreign banks ready to participate in the adventure.

A stubbornness that could cost him dearly, especially since beyond the borders of Turkey, Russia does not seem convinced by the benefits of the Istanbul Canal. Moscow is indeed convinced that the new sea route will allow NATO fleets to reach the Black Sea more quickly.

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