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Kanal Istanbul Project

Details about the Kanal Istanbul Project, an artificial sea-level waterway and a new town to be located across 95 acres of land, have been released, indicating a downsizing of original plans.

It has reportedly been decided that the projected population and the number of bridges in the new town, which are to be established around Kanal Istanbul should be decreased. According to the new details, there will be six bridges and the town’s population is expected to be around 500,000 rather than 1,200,000 as previously estimated. The buildings will be a maximum of six-stories tall.

The urban design project was re-discussed in a meeting in which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and ministries were present. Planning of the new town had been made with the assumption that the population would be 1,200,000. But it was later decided that this number should be halved in order to avoid population density. The new town will be built on either side of Kanal Istanbul, and each side will house 250,000 people.

The dimensions of Kanal Istanbul have also been decided as 400 meters wide, 43 kilometers long and 25 meters deep. The new town will contain conference halls, tourism centers, parks and trade centers, and will reportedly have a silhouette and be built with Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate motifs.

The Kanal Istanbul project was announced by then PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2011 and is to be built on the European side of the city, connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara leading to the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. The project plans on bisecting the current European side of Istanbul, forming an island between the continents of Asia and Europe.

A special planning office will also be set up, to construct an environmentally friendly and modern settlement within the Kanal Istanbul project. A team of scientists, architects, urban planners and sociologists will study the soil and environmental conditions, and after a workshop is held for the plan, preparations for the new city will be completed.

According to protocol between BİMTAŞ (Construction Consultancy affiliated with the Municipality)and the Spatial Planning General Directorate of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Development, the project, which will be built between Küçükçekmece and Arnavutköy districts, will be financed by the ministry.

Apparently, the “Kanal Istanbul Project” announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the 2011 elections is being prepared. Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım, who undertakes major infrastructure projects, said the preparation work for Kanal Istanbul is coming to an end, “after the final evaluation, construction will begin” and that the project has no contradictory aspects with the Lausanne and Montreux Treaties. (Anadolu Agency, Oct. 9.)

On Saturday, in his speech at Kayışdağ district in Istanbul he delivered on the occasion of the ceremony for new buses for Istanbul, Prime Minister Erdoğan said they were preparing the tender for the giant Kanal Istanbul project and that they were engaged in the effort of finishing it by the end of 2017.

Since the elections, I have been waiting for the news of whether the decision was made or not with the implementation of the Kanal Istanbul project. Officials have announced research has been finalized and the tender file of the project was being prepared.

Now, everybody should think about what they will do! From the scientific community, other than two academics, not many voices were heard on the feasibility of Kanal Istanbul. I read the article and interviews from Cemal Saydam of Hacettepe University and Etham Gönenç from the Civil Engineering Department of Istanbul Technical University.

What the two scientists said could be summarized as such:

  • The salty water that will be brought from the Black Sea through the channel will cause the water in the Marmara Sea to be left without oxygen.
  • Being left without oxygen ends sea life. The entire Marmara and the Bosphorus and its vicinity will smell of hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs). The food balance of the sea, the quality of the water will change. In time, the ecology in the Black Sea will be affected negatively.
  • The underground water sources in the island that will be formed between the Bosphorus and the channel will be filled with salty sea water.
  • Countries bordering the Black Sea and the Mediterranean will not allow this project that is absolutely irreversible.
  • Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, without mentioning what these scientists were pointing at, only said the project “had nothing to do with the Montreux Convention” and moved on.

The claims of academics are not the kind to be disregarded without any research and with one or two people issuing counter-views. They are pointing out to a situation, a disaster that will develop throughout many years. They are saying, “If you open an artificial channel, that would mean the end of Marmara Sea. Marmara Sea will be destroyed irrevocably. This cannot be made any better but if you insist, it will get worse; it will be totally destroyed.”

Even if what they are saying is not true, without thoroughly convincing the public which view is true, no tender or construction should start.

For the government to say, “We have examined it and we are starting the construction” is equivalent to “Let the people suffer from a nightmare.” How can such a thing happen? Where else in the world you can see an administration deeming their people to a nightmare? While one option is the assurance that “a truly correct work is being done,” the other option should not be preferred, the one that deems millions of people to live with the fear of, “What will happen to us?” The government should facilitate the citizens to understand the matter.

The government should initiate a wide debate where everyone will be able to hear what everybody else is saying. The statements should be published; universities should hold international conferences. The entire population should understand what is being done, should know the views of those who oppose the project and the counterviews to these and be able to express their own views.

Political parties should first examine and find which view is right within their own structure and then publicize their opinions.

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) Istanbul organization should issue what it is thinking about the Kanal Istanbul project.

What does the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have to say about the project? What do the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the Green Party and Left Future Party say? Should it be done or shouldn’t it be done?

Why are the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and district municipalities silent?

Where on earth is such a thing seen, that without the Istanbul Mayor and district mayors and local assemblies having decided separately and later jointly on the matter, in other words without the representatives selected by the people, without them saying “yes” or “no” on behalf of the people, that such an ominous and enormous project be started?

Everybody should determine what they will do if the government opens a tender without creating a wide environment for debate, without the main political parties in Istanbul, the Istanbul Mayor, district mayors and local assemblies issue their independent decisions and justifications; I know what I will do!

Tarhan Erdem is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece was published on Oct. 14. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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