Turkey unveils route of Canal Istanbul project

Turkey unveils route of Canal Istanbul project

The Turkish government unveiled the route of its planned new canal for Istanbul, which is an artificial sea-level waterway parallel to the Bosphorus that is to connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.

The project, first announced by the country's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while he was prime minister in 2011, is by far the most complex of a string of new ventures for the city.

The government argues it will create attractive new living areas and take pressure off the Bosphorus Strait that splits the European and Asian sides of the city and is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Turkey's Transport and Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan said that the canal would begin in the Istanbul district of Kucukcekmece on the Sea of Marmara, where there is already an inland lake. It will then head north towards the Sazlidere reservoir before emerging into the Black Sea just north of Durusu.

"The aim is to reduce the risks that can arise from vessels in the Bosphorus carrying dangerous materials," Arslan told a televised news conference. "Another aim is to create an urban transformation for our citizens in this area... and also to increase the attractiveness of Istanbul as a global metropolis."

Some environmentalists have warned the project risks wrecking the maritime ecosystem and could also increase the risk of earthquakes in an area of high seismic activity, the AFP reported.

But Arslan insisted that all precautions had been taken, saying the route had been chosen only after thorough earthquake risk assessment and computer modelling studies were undertaken.

Political scientist Orhan Gafarli, speaking with Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that the choice of the route for the Canal Istanbul project was a significant event in the economic life of Turkey. "By creating this project, Turkey will increase trade and increase transit of cargo and transport of other countries through its territory, which will allow it to fully assume the role of transit hub for trade between Eastern Europe and the Middle East. This project is very important for our country, " he said.

The projected canal has also a geopolitical significance. "The benefits for Turkish geopolitics are that the constructed channel will not be specified in the Montreux Convention regarding the regime of the straits of 1936, and will remain completely under Turkey's control - Ankara will be able to choose under any conditions which ships can use it," Orhan Gafarli explained.

According to him, many foreign companies will show interest in participating in the project. "There are investment groups in the West which are interested in entering the project, as they will later profit from its operation. Also, it should be noted that China maybe interested in the channel through Kucukcekmece because of the One Belt and One Road Initiative as a supply route to the West," the political scientist stressed.

A senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Middle East of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Andrey Boldyrev, also noted the advantage of the canal project for Turkey, which will allow it to unload the Bosporus, protect it from potential environmental disasters associated with the transportation of oil, and help increase the freight flow as a whole. However, the expert warned that for other countries the opening the channel can be inconvenient. "As you know, the trade flow through the Bosporus is almost free, and Turkey claims to establish its own rules for the new channel. So the introduction of freight charges in case of a parallel channel is quite possible," he explained.

"But even if Ankara builds a new channel, I am sure that other oil transit countries will require that this channel obey international rules," the senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Middle East of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences said.

Commenting on Turkey's chances of attracting foreign investment for construction, he said that theoretically this is possible, but in practice it might be a little different. "Considering the fact that Turkey puts into operation one megaproject after another, it can be assumed that it will not abandon this channel. But if you remember that Erdogan pushed back the beginning of construction, then he may continue to further postpone the implementation of this project," the expert pointed out.