Istanbul Canal project will be city’s biggest disaster, says opposition mayor

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu warned of the environmental impact of the Turkish government’s contentious Istanbul Canal megaproject, saying Ankara’s multi-billion-dollar bid to build an artificial waterway would be “an even greater disaster” with the world’s intensifying climate crisis, Birgün newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) says the 50-kilometre-long Istanbul Canal, which would link the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara through Istanbul, will reduce traffic on the busy Bosporus strait by providing a preferable trading route for international shipping companies.

But critics of the project say the AKP is risking irreversible ecological damage in an attempt to reinvigorate the stuttering construction sector and provide cash for its allies and clients.

Speaking at a ceremony for a waste water collector in Istanbul, İmamoğlu said those who remain insensitive to the chronic effects of climate change and set out other priorities “must be ready to face any kind of disaster”.

“If you are occupied with the Istanbul Canal (project), which in my opinion will be the city’s greatest disaster, that means that you are preparing Istanbul for an even greater disaster,” he said.

The source of disputes surrounding the Istanbul Canal comes from a “mindset that aims to rule the country in a way that is far from the world’s realities, entirely removed from today’s economic state” and awareness of the environment during the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Istanbul mayor said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced plans for the project in 2011 before he was elected prime minister for a third term, but his government has failed to start the artificial waterway project in the nine years that followed.

İmamoğlu’s comments arrive following a report in Sözcü newspaper on Monday that Rönesans Holding, owned Erdoğan ally billionaire Erman Ilıcak, is working on tenders for the project.

Although tenders are still being submitted, it is likely Turkish conglomerates Mapa Construction, Cengiz Holding, Kalyon Holding, Kolin Construction, and Limak Holding will be involved in the Istanbul Canal project, due to their close ties with Erdoğan and the AKP.