Turkey’s construction frenzy and the “Crazy Channel Project”
Internationally isolated and economically cornered, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration has resorted to a wild rush forward to assert its power, retake the initiative and prepare for the 2019 presidential coronation.
The formula is quite basic and typical of this administration: imposing an all-out construction frenzy of roads, tunnels, bridges, social housing, prisons, military outposts in Kurdish territory, mosques, shopping centres, airports, seaports, mega vacation resorts, nuclear as well as coal-powered plants, hydroelectric dams and finally a second Bosporus between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, named the “Crazy Project”.
We should notice that all these projects, harmful to the natural, urban, cultural and human environment, are exempted by governmental decree of any environmental and/or strategic impact analysis.
Recently the international press discovered one of these projects, namely the “Crazy Project”, mentioned for the first time in 2011 by Erdoğan before parliamentary elections.
The project has been criticised by scientists and environmental activists as the government appears determined to forge ahead without any consultative process on potential impacts.
Let us recall some of these potential impacts in bullet points, as described by two scientists, Professor Cemal Saydam of Hacettepe University and Professor Ethem Gönenç of Istanbul Technical University
• The hydrologic balance will be reversed between, on the one hand the cold and fresh waters of the Black Sea and on the other, the warm and salty waters flowing from the Mediterranean Sea across Marmara Sea into the Black Sea;
• Although the Black Sea is approximately 30 centimetres higher than the Marmara Sea there are two-way streams between the two, through the natural channel, the Bosporus. The one-way tap of the new channel will force the Black Sea to constantly supply fresh water to Marmara Sea without being able to be fed by the reverse streams that exist in the Bosporus supplying the Black Sea with warm and salty waters;
• That will be the beginning of an irreversible environmental disaster, as the Black Sea will be emptied twice as fast with two taps while the flow rates and capacities of the rivers that feed the Black Sea stay the same. That concerns its principal feeders the Danube, the Dnieper, the Dniester but also rivers of all riparian states;
• While the Black Sea slowly dries up, the warmth and the salinity of Marmara Sea and the Mediterranean will change. The Marmara Sea will become putrefying water mass irreversibly altered, with devastating consequences for marine and urban life;
• The part of Thrace that lies between the new channel and the Bosporus will become an island; its underground water sources will be replaced by sea water;
• Once built, the new channel will be irreversible;
• Finally the project is going to be constructed in the vicinity of Istanbul, a mega city cornered in a tiny territory between Black and Marmara seas inhabited already by some 15 million people who have no breathing space left. Erdoğan’s dream of magnificence is poised to become a nightmare instead.
In view of so many odds, including the mammoth cost of the project, one may think that the project is unrealisable. Given the economic and political dire straits as well as the omnipotence of Erdoğan, it is highly probable that the rulers will go ahead with the project. Hence the “Crazy Project” has the necessary potential to end up as a Madness Project.
Therefore a European-wide awareness campaign, including Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, on the mortal dangers of the project would help to raise the attention of public opinion and concomitantly that of the decision-makers at all relevant levels. They should call upon the Erdoğan administration to re-consider its domestic as well as trans-boundary responsibilities seriously.
Zia Weisse, "Suez, Panama … Istanbul? Turkey’s grand canal plan", 19 November 2017, Politico.
In 2012 a petition in Turkish initiated by Professor Saydam against the project gathered the signature of 26,705 citizens:
Prof. Derin Orhon, "Will Marmara Sea Survive? The Struggle against Pollution".
Cemal Saydam et al., “Çılgın Proje Kanal İstanbul” (in Turkish), Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 2014.