Turkey has approved development plans for a huge canal on the edge of Istanbul, the construction of which could endanger the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates the passage through the Strait, and provoke a dispute between Turkey and Russia.
On March 27, Turkey approved development plans for a huge canal on the edge of Istanbul, Environment Minister Murat Kurum said on Saturday, carrying out a project that has sparked criticism about its cost and environmental impact.
The step came a year after Turkey launched its first tender for the reconstruction of two historic bridges in its largest city, where the 45km Kanal Istanbul backed by President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to be excavated.
The canal will connect the Black Sea in the north of Istanbul to the Sea of ​​Marmara in the south and is estimated to cost 75 billion lire (9.2 billion dollars).
The government says it will facilitate maritime traffic on the Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest sea passages in the world, and prevent similar incidents to that on the Suez Canal.
Historically, the issue of crossing the Strait has always been a topic of international contention. The construction of the canal could endanger the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates the passage through the Strait, and provoke a dispute between Turkey and Russia.
Furthermore, the construction could increase Turkey’s already existing tension with Greece and Cyprus – countries that have experienced growing closeness to Israel in recent years – and thus also affect Israel’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
Since 2011, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promoted the excavation of a canal between the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Marmara, as a waterway parallel to the Bosphorus Strait. Last year, his determination to carry out the project intensified, despite mounting criticism of the plan. The idea of ​​digging such a canal is not new; in fact this idea arose from the 16th century, and was mentioned more recently in the early 1990s.
The relatively straight path of the artificial canal, compared to the tight curves of the Bosphorus, should prevent accidents and damage to the city and the environment. An additional route between the two seas should also help reduce traffic on the Bosphorus, which is used by more than 40,000 ships each year (more than the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal combined), a number the Turkish government plans to increase over the next few decades. Furthermore, the Turkish government says it will have the right to collect a transit toll from ships crossing the canal – a tax that is not possible in the Bosphorus due to the Montreux Convention (1936). The Turkish Minister of Transport estimates the revenues from such a toll in the first phase at around one billion dollars a year, adding that this amount could grow to as much as five billion dollars. Finally, the Istanbul Canal project also includes the construction of a new city along its banks, with housing for one million residents and various infrastructures that will be connected to the new Istanbul airport.
The intention to carry out the Istanbul Canal project is the latest expression of the accelerated development processes underway in Turkey. Since Erdogan’s first term as Prime Minister in 2003, new infrastructures have sprung up all over the country and particularly in Istanbul.
Thanks to the Istanbul Canal, the Turkish president claims his place among the national heroes and that will strengthen his internal political consensus. If the channel becomes a reality, Erdogan can claim to have succeeded in what many previous sultans and prime ministers could only to dream. The object of the transit toll will be a way to show the people that Erdogan is even more successful than the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who returned the Bosphorus to Turkish sovereignty through the Montreux Convention, but on the condition that the ships could cross without paying a transit toll. Conversely, if the Istanbul Canal is built, it will be under Turkish sovereignty and generate revenue for Turkey.
Alongside the criticisms, also from his own party, relating to the costs of the canal, there are those relating to the environmental effects of the canal.
Studies point to various risks that could arise from connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Marmara, particularly for the latter. In addition, the excavation work will involve cutting down hundreds of thousands of trees, which aggravates the problem of air pollution in Istanbul. There are also concerns regarding the supply of drinking water. About 40 percent of Istanbul’s drinking water comes from Thrace, the European part of Turkey, and the supply will be disrupted by the project and its consequences. The people of Thrace could be adversely affected by the canal, which will have a considerable impact on agriculture and the fishing industry. Furthermore,
Finally, there is a deep concern about corruption surrounding the project. The opposition sees the government’s construction plans as a way to transfer money from the state budget to Erdogan’s supporters through private companies that are involved in the project with known close ties to the government. Furthermore, it was revealed that part of the land for the planned route of the canal was bought by elements close to Erdogan and the AKP.
As regards problems relating to international maritime law, the Montreux Convention, which regulates traffic across the Strait in times of peace and war, is fundamental for the countries along the Black Sea coast, and primarily for Russia, for which the Bosphorus is the gateway to the Mediterranean. As long as Turkey is careful to respect the spirit of the Convention with respect to the Istanbul Canal, particularly with regard to restrictions on the passage of warships from countries that do not have a Black Sea coast, this should not create problems for Russia. However, the toll for using the new canal will presumably make freight transport cheaper, with negative consequences for the Russian economy. Therefore,

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