The Kanal Istanbul Project, an under-construction shipping route running parallel to the strategically critical Bosphorus Strait, is fast gaining prominence as a major divisive issue in Turkey.
The canal, once described by Erdogan himself as a “crazy project”, is being seen as a lifeline for the leader, who has been at Turkey’s helm since 2003 (first as Prime Minister and then as President), but has seen his popularity decline amid a sharp rise in pandemic deaths coupled with economic decline.
What is Kanal Istanbul Project?
- Erdogan, whose nearly two-decade-long rule has been marked by major improvements in Turkey’s infrastructure, now wants to dig up a new route through Istanbul connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, which his Justice and Development Party (AKP) is touting as a major new source of income for the country.
- The planned Kanal Istanbul Project will run parallel to the Bosphorus Strait, a natural waterway that separates Europe and Asia, which for centuries has served as a key outlet for Russian ships entering the Mediterranean Sea.
- Since 1936, passage through the Strait has been governed by the Montreux Convention, a multilateral treaty that allows ships to go across almost free of cost during peacetime, and which tightly restricts the movement of naval vessels.
- The new canal, which will run on the European side of Bosphorus, will be safer and faster to navigate compared to the Bosphorus, making it a more attractive option for commercial ships, who will pay to pass through.
- Analysts also believe that Erdogan would use the canal to circumvent Montreux Convention, by marketing the mega project to NATO allies as a legally kosher way of sending their warships into the Black Sea to counter Russia, their major geopolitical rival, all while attracting Chinese investment.
Criticisms of Kanal Istanbul Project
- Montreux Convention is sacrosanct and should be left untouched.
- Diverting public attention away from Turkey’s pandemic numbers
- The critics have also pointed to investigative reports exposing real estate deals in which buyers from the Middle East have picked up prime plots of land
- Canal would pose a threat to Istanbul’s water supply system of over four centuries
- Bring polluted waters of the Black Sea into the Sea of Marmara, and ultimately in the Mediterranean.
- Recent fall in the number of ships wanting to cross the Bosphorus
Back to basics
About Bosphorus Strait
- It is a natural waterway that separates Europe and Asia, which for centuries has served as a key outlet for Russian ships entering the Mediterranean Sea.
- It is located in northwestern Turkey and separates Thrace from Anatolia.
- It is the narrowest strait in the world, connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.
- It is also known as the Strait of Istanbul.
- It links the European part of the city from its Asian part and thus remains as a very strategic waterway in the region.
- It has a significant place in the international maritime map as it is a busy waterway that witnesses the presence of many ships and oil tankers every day, in addition to the local fishing and passenger boats.
The name “Bosphorus” was derived from the Ancient Greek word “Bosporos,” meaning “cattle strait” or “ox ford”.
- The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits is a 1936 agreement that gives Turkey control over the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits and regulates the transit of naval warships.
- The Convention guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime, and restricts the passage of naval ships not belonging to Black Sea states.
- The terms of the Convention have been a source of controversy over the years, most notably about the Soviet Union‘s military access to the Mediterranean Sea.
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