Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken the first step in building a canal on the west bank of Istanbul, amid concerns over the environmental and economic effects of the project.
“Today we open a new page in the history of Turkey’s development,” Erdogan said on Saturday at a Sazlidere Bridge revolution ceremony on the planned route.
“Let’s see.” Istanbul Canal as a project to save the future of Istanbul … to ensure the safety of life and property of the Istanbul Bosphorus and the surrounding citizens, ”he said.
The government said the project will facilitate ship traffic and reduce the risk of accidents on the Bosphorus Strait – one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world – linking the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.
Dubbed by Erdogan as his “stupid project” when he first suggested building the canal in 2011, the 45-kilometer (28-mile) long project linking the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea west of the Bosphorus includes the construction of new seaports. , bridges, businesses, housing estates and artificial lakes.
Erdogan said the canal, estimated to cost $ 15 billion, will be completed in six years.
“Here, it’s not a fountain opening ceremony,” he told the event. “Today we are laying the foundations for one of the most exemplary channels in the world.”
Mustafa Ilicali, a transport professor and former member of parliament, told Al Jazeera that sea traffic has grown 72% in the Bosphorus since 2005.
“Tankers cause accidents in the narrow streets. Waiting ships pollute the sea and cause emissions, ”he said.
Muzaffer Bayram, a citizen living in Istanbul, sees the canal as beneficial for Turkey.
“Do you see these ships waiting?” When we get to the canal, don’t wait here. On the other hand they pay more [to pass through Turkey]. It’s in the interest of my country, ”he told Al Jazeera.
However, opponents say the canal will cause profound ecological damage in Istanbul, aggravate the dangers posed by earthquakes and put an end to it. sick Turkish economy under the weight of an even larger debt.
“Through this new canal, the Black Sea and the waters of Marmara will be mixed.” This would have ecological consequences and endanger an already stagnant water supply and marine life, ”said Pinar Giritlioglu, vice president of the Town Planning Chamber.
Ercument Gulemek, a farmer and rancher in Baklali, said the project will reclaim a part of his village.
“We want to expand the business, build an interior barn, but we can’t.” It is forbidden. What I do is the only job I know. I can’t become a night watchman after these places become settlements, ”he told Al Jazeera.
The first structure of the project, the eight-lane road bridge, 840 meters (about half a kilometer), will link to the North Marmara highway which also connects other recent infrastructure projects – a new airport and a third Bosphorus bridge.
This has led Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who represents the main opposition Republican party, to call Saturday’s ceremony an “illusion” that is linked to highway plans rather than the channel.
“The construction of a bridge here has nothing to do with the canal project.” It has something to do with the road center, ”he said Thursday at a press conference in Sazlidere.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle Eastern analyst, said that while a 15-fold increase in traffic in the Bosphorus over the last half-century has been a serious problem, it must be weighed against environmental and geopolitical concerns – including reports that a large part of the project funding will come from China.
“Avoiding congestion in the Bosphorus is a valid argument,” he told Al Jazeera.
“But then other questions are – is that it weighs on the environmental cost and can even be a threat to Turkish sovereignty if the project is [financed] from China? “