For a good while, oppo­si­tion media in Turkey, or at least what is left of them, have been pub­lish­ing arti­cles with alarm­ing head­lines, Canal Istan­bul is a cat­a­stroph­ic project with­out equal”, “Canal Istan­bul will cause a cat­a­stro­phe”, “The Pow­er’s impos­si­ble project: Canal Istan­bul among others…

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Accord­ing to Prof. Dr. Haluk Gerçek, one of the sci­en­tists sign­ing the WWF-Turkey report titled “Either the Canal, or Istan­bul”, mar­itime cir­cu­la­tion on the Bospho­rus caus­ing acci­dents and which are one of the rea­sons lead­ing to the project, have been in con­stant and con­sid­er­able diminu­tion since 2007. He states that, “the rea­son behind the Canal Istan­bul project is not, as announced to facil­i­tate cir­cu­la­tion and avoid acci­dents, but rather to stim­u­late the build­ing indus­try and to open remain­ing nat­ur­al spaces in the city to con­struc­tion, in what con­si­tutes a cat­a­stroph­ic real estate project.”

The stated objective of the project: “Saving Istanbul”

In keep­ing with the increase in world eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty, the num­ber of ships cross­ing the Bospho­rus would be on the rise…The cur­rent num­ber of ships would aver­age some 50 thou­sand a year. Com­mer­cial ships ply the Bospho­rus since the sign­ing of the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion, a mul­ti­lat­er­al inter­na­tion­al agree­ment rul­ing over the nav­i­ga­tion of straits, signed on July 20 1936. Tak­ing into account the increase in glob­al activ­i­ty, that fig­ure would soon reach 80 thou­sand. Mar­itime trans­porta­tion of dan­ger­ous and tox­ic prod­ucts, par­tic­u­lar­ly fuels, would rep­re­sent a ver­i­ta­ble threat on the city More­over, once com­plet­ed the project would bring in some 8 bil­lion Turk­ish lira per year. Tak­ing all of this under con­sid­er­a­tion, this project would then be very most impor­tant and necessary.

This is how min­is­ters, the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic and their servile media argu­ment and defend the pro­ject­ed Istan­bul Canal, impos­ing it on the pop­u­la­tion at the tip of a tsuna­mi of propaganda.

The true objective of the project: ‘Turning a profit”

Fig­ures tell anoth­er sto­ry entire­ly. There is ques­tion of an esti­mate pre­dict­ing that the num­ber of ships cross­ing the Bospho­rus would dou­ble in 20, 40 years. Instead, over the past 12 years, a diminu­tion of 27,3% has been observed. In 2007, 115 tran­sits were reg­is­tered, and 113 in 2018.

The expla­na­tion is sim­ple. In order to dimin­ish costs and increase prof­its, users of mar­itime trans­porta­tion have priv­i­leged larg­er ships rather than trans­port­ing small­er vol­umes in sev­er­al trips. So that, con­trary to the views defend­ed by pow­er, the num­ber of ships is dimin­ish­ing. Also com­ing into play is the fact that trans­porta­tion of nat­ur­al gas or petrol is now much more secure and less cost­ly by pipeline.

We can thus assure that the Istan­bul Canal project – of which the Min­is­ter of Trans­porta­tion Cahit Turhan said, or admit­ted is tru­ly a project that could… we may add: a large-scale mas­sacre of nature.

Is there truly a need for the Istanbul Canal?

This project, served up on a sil­ver plat­ter by Erdo­gan claim­ing it to be “my great­est dream” is in fact a project that comes up from time to time, and for the first time in the days of Suley­man the First, known as “the Mag­nif­i­cent”. Every time it was brought up, it was dropped again. Why? Pre­cise­ly because it nev­er proved itself to be necessary.

Today, this canal project is used as an argu­ment against the cross­ing of the Bospho­rus by ships. There exist oth­er canals in the world that were built to reduce on the time and the cost of cross­ings, such as Pana­ma and Suez…We will not go into research to demon­strate if, at the time of their con­struc­tion, these projects caused nat­ur­al destruc­tions, work-relat­ed ‘acci­dents”, just as the Istan­bul Canal could…The sole dif­fer­ence we must point out between the Istan­bul Canal and these two pre­vi­ous ones is that the mar­itime cross­ing already exists in Istan­bul: it’s called the Bosphorus.

The Istan­bul Canal would be approx­i­mate­ly 45 km long. The Bospho­rus is 30 km. There are thus no sav­ings in terms of time or cost of the cross­ing. What is more, the Bospho­rus is a nat­ur­al water­way which con­sid­er­ably facil­i­tates the legal aspect of the cross­ings. Rules and con­di­tions are already pro­vid­ed for in the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion. One must also know that this project which at one time was described as “mad” by those in pow­er them­selves, then trans­formed over time into an “imper­a­tive need” on the pop­u­la­tion in the con­text of the “great works”, pro­vides for tar­iffed cross­ings. Which is to say that, accord­ing to arti­cle 10 of the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion, ships now cross­ing the Bospho­rus would have to pay in order to use the Istan­bul Canal. You don’t need to be a great sooth­say­er to see already that the Canal will not be the cross­ing favored by any ship whatsoever.

Another dimension: the natural catastrophe

Those sci­en­tists and cit­i­zens who have main­tained a mod­icum of ratio­nal­i­ty can see and issue warn­ings that with the con­struc­tion of the Canal, an arti­fi­cial island would be cre­at­ed and the water zones around Istan­bul would dis­ap­pear in their cur­rent form.

That is not all. In the inte­ri­or Sea of Mar­mara where all the rub­ble from the con­struc­tion would end up, there would also appear arti­fi­cial islands and changes in lev­els of the sea floor. Such a human inter­ven­tion will inevitably affect the marine ecosystem.

Tak­ing only these two neg­a­tive exam­ples into account, the entire pop­u­la­tion of Istan­bul will be affected.

More­over, if one looks close­ly at the Istan­bul Canal’s itin­er­ary and that of the future arti­fi­cial island, one may ask: “To whom will be allot­ted these zones that will increase in ‘real estate val­ue’ and be divid­ed into lots?” Who will buy and live in vil­las with a view on the Canal? Even putting aside alle­ga­tions pre­dict­ing that like oth­er “valu­able” neigh­bor­hoods in Istan­bul, the sur­round­ings of the Canal will be sold to Qatari and Sau­di “emi­rates”, it is obvi­ous that one will not see work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods sprout­ing up on the prof­itable lands, but rather lux­u­ry res­i­dences. Which means the forced dis­place­ment of the cur­rent inhab­i­tants of the planned build­ing site toward sub­urbs fur­ther removed out­side the city and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the area

In real­i­ty, the Istan­bul Canal is a “real estate project” part of a mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal pack­age along with the third air­port of Istan­bul, the third bridge on the Bospho­rus and the Mar­mara North High­way; a “new city” con­cep­tu­al­ized by State pow­er for the nou­veaux riches.

The Istan­bul Canal will also open the door to anoth­er dan­ger: earth­quakes. The great earth­quake des­tined to destroy Istan­bul some day is not a myth. It is doc­u­ment­ed by every sis­mol­o­gist. Through more or less impor­tant seis­mic shocks, some­times felt by the inhab­i­tants and some­times going unno­ticed, it reminds of its arrival every day. An oppor­tu­ni­ty to note in pass­ing that no pre­ven­tion poli­cies have been devel­oped, quite the con­trary, since the few open spaces that must be pre­served and des­ig­nat­ed as assem­bly spaces are built up despite the howls from urban­ists, archi­tects and sci­en­tists. “Instead of a Canal, make pro­vi­sions for the earth­quake!”  The Istan­bul Canal piles on addi­tion­al risks on those already exist­ing. The mouth of the canal on the Sea of Mar­mara will be very close to the seis­mic fault lines of the pre­dict­ed great Istan­bul earth­quake. As a reminder, in case of earth­quakes, the Istan­bul Canal will set up a bar­ri­er for flee­ing populations.

Obvi­ous­ly, in a mega-city where a mega-earth­quake is expect­ed, rea­son should lead to an urban pol­i­cy avoid­ing as much as pos­si­ble con­struc­tions and lay­outs done in a hap­haz­ard way…But, of course, expect­ing this is use­less from a regime that seems to live in a “par­al­lel uni­verse” and endures because of the pro­ject­ed prof­its and pil­lag­ing imposed on the populations.

And the bud­get in all this?

Appar­ent­ly, this year the Istan­bul Canal is bud­get­ed at 75 bil­lion dol­lars. That’s funny…last year is was slat­ed at 118$ bil­lion. One might sus­pect that those in pow­er are lowe­ing the esti­mates in order to win over pub­lic opinion…

In the report titled “The Struc­tures inte­grat­ed in the Canal”, a pro­ject­ed port called “IGA Port” stands out. The asso­ciates behind this project are the author­i­ties’ “favorites”, such as Kaly­on, Limak, Cen­giz and Mapa, which is to say those who signed on and con­tin­ue to sign on to projects of hydro­elec­tric pow­er sta­tions and the nat­ur­al cat­a­stro­phes they engender.

Now, if we take into account the fact that the ones in pow­er will real­ize this pro­ject­ed Canal out of pub­lic funds and with the famous “part­ner­ship” for­mu­la so ben­e­fi­cial to friends’ busi­ness­es: “build, man­age and pass on”, the real­i­ty is that the announced sums, be they of 75 or 118 bil­lion dol­lars will be a State-busi­ness mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion. The polite term for it is “pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship”. And one can see as big as a house that, as with ear­li­er projects of bridges, pay­ing high­ways, air­ports “with insured exploita­tion”, the peo­ple will be the fill­ing in the holes through new tax­es and levies…

It is not hard to guess either that, as hap­pened in oth­er projects of pil­lag­ing signed by these same busi­ness – one can men­tion the third Istan­bul air­port as a recent exam­ple – count­less “work-relat­ed acci­dents”, pro­grammed “assas­si­na­tions” will occur due to lack of secu­ri­ty mea­sures and poor work­ing con­di­tions. Count­less injus­tices will be not­ed and those not­ing, sig­nal­ing and denounc­ing them will be threat­ened, intim­i­dat­ed, arrest­ed and even, see­ing the gigan­tic size of the project, will face death threats. Oth­er grandiose mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal projects have accus­tomed us to this.

Toward an eventual diplomatic crisis?

Anoth­er dis­cus­sion aris­es with the Canal project. The ques­tion being: “is this new sea­way con­trary to the Mon­treux Convention? ”

The cross­ing of the Bospho­rus was opened to for­eign com­mer­cial ships in 1829, then, with World War I to war­ships. A com­mis­sion called the “The Straits Com­mis­sion” set up in con­junc­tion with the Lau­sanne Treaty in 1923 took respons­bil­i­ty for Bospho­rus cross­ings by all ships. More­over, accord­ing to the cur­rent spokesper­sons of the cur­rent lead­ers in Turkey, there are no valid­i­ty lim­its on this con­ven­tion. Coun­tries ben­e­fit­ting from the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion are those with shores on the Black Sea. The con­ven­tion impos­es lim­its on war­ships cross­ing the straits, in terms of ton­nage and length of stay in the Black Sea, as well as giv­ing the Repub­lic of Turkey author­i­ty to close the straits in case of war. Of neces­si­ty, eyes then turn toward rival coun­tries on the world stage…

In his dec­la­ra­tion con­cern­ing the Istan­bul Canal, Alek­sei Erk­hov, the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion’s Ambas­sador, under­lined “as long as it does not vio­late the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion.” Already in 2011, Vladimir Ivanovsky, Russ­ian Ambas­sador to Ankara, said “the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion must be pre­served.” As for Erdoğan in his com­ments at the NATO meet­ing in 2016 fol­low­ing the 2015 “plane cri­sis”, he stat­ed that, “The Black Sea is turn­ing into a Russ­ian lake.” This would not be very sat­is­fy­ing for the Unit­ed States either for whom, accord­ing to the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion, the Black Sea remains the only sea that is not “open”…The Canal project thus becomes part of Erdoğan’s polit­i­cal pok­er at the region­al and the world levels.

Final­ly, an envi­ron­men­tal impact eval­u­a­tion (ÇED) also brings to light the fact that author­i­ty of the regime on the straits cov­ered by the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion cov­ers the entire­ty of the Bospho­rus, the Dar­d­anelles and the Sea of Mar­mara, and thus indi­cates in what dan­ger­ous waters the Turk­ish State is now swimming…According to the report, there are plans for anoth­er canal open­ing from the North of the Straits of the Dar­d­anelles toward the Gulf of Saros. The fact a war­ship com­ing from the Aegean Sea could reach the Black Sea with­out cross­ing the Dar­d­anelles and the Bospho­rus would announce a diplo­mat­ic cri­sis of world-wide dimen­sions. Thus, the fact that NATO coun­try ships hav­ing no shores on the Black Sea could reach it nonethe­less through this arti­fi­cial nav­i­ga­tion road might cool the “close and friend­ly rela­tions” between Turkey and Russia…

Clos­ing words

As a reminder, State author­i­ties and insti­tu­tions such as the Sci­en­tif­ic and Tech­no­log­i­cal Research Coun­cil of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), the State Water Com­pa­ny, the Air­port man­age­ment direc­torate, had all issued neg­a­tive opin­ions on the Istan­bul Canal pri­or to approv­ing it fol­low­ing polit­i­cal pres­sures. Dec­la­ra­tions describ­ing the project as “geared for suc­cess” com­ing from the top lev­els of the State, the cho­rus response by the instru­ments of pro­pa­gan­da for the State – media and press relays — indi­cate that the State’s insis­tence on this project will con­tin­ue and that it may well become a real­i­ty some day.

This arti­cle is a free adap­ta­tion of İkt­id­arın “İmkans­ız Pro­je­si” : Kanal İst­anb­ul” (Pow­er’s impos­si­ble project: Istan­bul Canal) writ­ten by Gizem Şahin who ends on a pos­i­tive note: “Nonethe­less there is resis­tance against this imposed project. For the time being it takes the form of sig­na­tures on peti­tions (HERE in Eng­lish), of protests from hun­dreds of peo­ple stand­ing in the rain, of actions such as “human chains”. This pro­vides ear­ly sig­nals of how this groundswell could trans­form, fac­ing a State that impos­es with insis­tence, say­ing” Whether you want or don’t want, no mat­ter, it will be done!”. There was such a case in May 2013.

This arti­cle lists ques­tions and con­cerns that are not new. It also denounces the basic cor­rup­tion that will be fed by the major projects. This crit­i­cism is com­mon to the “oppo­si­tion” in Istan­bul. It could mobi­lize those who “changed kings” at the last munic­i­pal elec­tions. But we also know that it is not only a ques­tion of the Reis’ mega­lo­ma­nia, but is part of region­al projects based on alliances and com­pro­mis­es sat­is­fac­to­ry to the finan­cial sec­tor, be it secular.

This pro­ject­ed Canal, like all oth­er use­less grandiose projects is sim­ply tox­ic and in total con­tra­dic­tion with the Future, and the nec­es­sary polit­i­cal and finan­cial choic­es in order to make that future pos­si­ble and last­ing. And there will not only be Erdoğans who will want to impose it, so much does its cap­i­tal­ist log­ic go beyond the nos­tal­gic Ottoman yearnings.

And, at Kedis­tan, we do not make out a ZAD-like log­ic that might arise today in Istanbul…

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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