Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said construction of a multibillion-dollar canal, an alternative to the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, will begin by the end of June as the pandemic continues to take its toll on the country’s economy.
Erdogan’s announcement came a decade after he first unveiled his “crazy project” and at a time when his support has hit rock bottom. The 45-kilometer Istanbul Canal would cost about $15 billion and link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, officials say.
The government says it is meant to ease shipping traffic and the risk of accidents on the Bosphorus, which runs through Turkey’s largest city.
Erdogan is betting that the construction of the canal and the emergence of new cities along its route will create thousands of jobs and wealth that will dramatically boost the country’s economic growth and reverse the decline in his popularity ahead of presidential elections in 2023. Discontent has grown over Erdogan’s government’s handling of the economy and allegations of corruption by a mafia boss, which he has dismissed.
During the president’s 18 years in office, Turkey has invested tens of billions of dollars in giant infrastructure projects, including Istanbul’s new airport, a new bridge over the Bosphorus and huge urban hospitals.
The planned waterway is expected to create a new city of half a million people, with several bridges connecting the two banks. Shares in Turkish state-owned property developer Emlak Konut and cement maker Akcansa Cimento, a partnership between HeidelbergCement and Sabanci Holding, rose as much as 6.4% and 7.6%, respectively, on Monday.
“We will lay the foundation for the Istanbul Canal by the end of June,” Erdogan said at a ceremony to inaugurate a TV signal tower on the anniversary of the Ottoman Turks’ 1453 takeover of Istanbul on Saturday, a day after unveiling a giant mosque in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. “We will build two cities on the right and left sides of the Istanbul canal. With these two cities,” Istanbul’s beauty and strategic importance will increase, he said.
To mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the economy, his government is striving to open up the economy and revive the tourism industry by increasing vaccination. The aim is to reduce the current account deficit and ease the suffering of businesses, which have complained of insufficient government support, and families, which are wilting under galloping inflation.
Erdogan has dismissed concerns from political rivals that the project would hurt taxpayers and the environment and undermine a 20th century agreement aimed at ensuring stability and security in the Black Sea. Erdogan has said Turkey will not abandon the 1936 Montreux Convention, but that warships will be allowed to use the canal.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who is seen as a possible rival to Erdogan in the future, strongly opposes the project, saying it would “annihilate” the water resources of Istanbul’s 16 million inhabitants, ruin the province’s nature beyond repair and make it uninhabitable. Turkish prosecutors on Friday called for the jailing of Imamoglu, whose 2019 victory ended more than a quarter-century of control over Istanbul by Erdogan’s party and his predecessors, on charges of allegedly insulting the country’s election watchdog.
“The people of Istanbul elected Imamoglu on March 31 to prevent the destruction of the green, the city from being buried in cement, the people from being treated rudely and, finally, to block the formation of that spawn system called Canal Istanbul,” said Meral Aksener, head of the opposition Iyi party, which backed Imamoglu’s candidacy, at a competition ceremony marking the takeover of Istanbul.