GeoPolitical Tales Episode 2 | Why Istanbul Canal is so important for Turkey | استنبول کینال اردوان کا وہ منصوبہ جو ترکی کو سپر پاور بنا سکتا ہے
The project of Istanbul Canal has been a bone of contention between the government and the secular opposition. What is Istanbul Canal? And what are its pros and cons? How can this project turn Turkey into one of most important players in the region? And how can it be a source of conflict between the two super powers, USA and Russia, in future? We will try to answer these questions in this video. Welcome to Big Socho In order to understand the project of Istanbul Canal, it is important to understand the geography of Turkey.
And how does it make Turkey one of the most important country in the region. Lets have a look at the map of Turkey. To its north, it has Black Sea. The borders of countries like Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia touch Black Sea. It is pertinent to note that the only warm water port owned by Russia is in Black Sea. In other words, it’s the only Russian sea port that remains operational throughout the year. The countries around Black Sea are rich in oil and gas. They export huge volumes of oil and gas to the outside world.
These Black Sea countries have only one sea trade route with the outside world. And this route starts from Black sea, and going through the natural sea routes within Turkey, it reaches other countries. In other words, any ship coming from Black Sea countries would first have to go through the narrow sea route of Turkey. This narrow route is known as Bosporus Strait. From there, that ship will reach the Marmara Sea which is also in Turkey. And then it will go through the Daniel Pass, and that’s also in Turkey. Only after following this route, will the ship reach international waters.
And all the Black Sea countries do not have any other sea route. For this very reason, this sea route through Turkey is of utmost importance for Black Sea countries. Now lets have a look at these routes. The Bosporus strait is a 30 km long but a very narrow sea route. It is surrounded on both sides by Istanbul. It is Bosporus which connects Asia with Europe. You can say that the land on the eastern side of Bosporus is Asia. Whereas the land on the west of Bosporus is considered a part of Europe. Bosporus is considered to be one among the most important sea routes in the world.
Being the only sea route, Bosporus is of vital importance to Black sea countries. If for some reasons, Turkey blocks the Bosporus route, it will isolate the Black sea countries from all sea routes. And it will result in irreparable damage to the economy of these countries. Due to this strategic importance, Russia and other powerful countries of the world signed Montreux Convention with Turkey in 1936. According to this convention, all the trade ships can freely move across Bosporus and other sea routes in Turkey. And Turkey will not charge them any fee for this free movement.
It will not create any hindrance in this route as well. However, unlike trade ships, the Montreux Convention does impose certain conditions upon warships. For instance, in peacetime, the Black sea countries can get their warships through, but only with prior information to Turkey. But the countries that do not lie on Black Sea, such as USA, UK and Germany, they can go through Bosporus but they can only stay in Black Sea for 21 days. Furthermore, the warships allowed in Black Sea for 21 days, can never exceed in number than 9 at any point in time.
This was meant to ensure the defense of Black Sea countries, especially Russia. Montreus agreement also allows Turkey to completely close Bosporus during wartime. Due to extensive use of Bosporus trade route by Black Sea countries, it has becomes the busiest sea route in world. Annually, almost 50,000 trade and warships travel through Bosporus. In order to understand the Bosporus importance in a better way, it can be compared to the Panama canal in Central America where 12,000 ships travel annually.
Whereas, the Suez Canal in Egypt has only 17000 ships, annually traveling through it. In other words, the sea traffic of both Panama and Suez canals combines is still less than that of Bosporus. Because of such a busy route, accidents are not uncommon in Bosporus, and can be problematic for region on both sides of Bosporus. For this reasons, the Turkish government wants to build another route parallel to Bosporus. This alternate sea route will be in the form of an artificial canal.
This canal will be dug in the west of Istanbul, and so it’s called Istanbul Canal. Istanbul canal will be 45 km long, 25 meters deep and 1000 meter wide. According to Turkish authorities, this project will be completed in 2023 with a cost of 15 billion USD. US Dollars 15 billion. Turkish authorities enlist a lot of benefits of this canal. For instance, the canal will reduce the traffic load of Bosporus. It will also reduce the possibility of accident of ships carrying stuff like oil, LNG, chemicals or explosives. The Turkish President, Tayyab Erdogan, is known for grand development projects.
The magnificent new airport of Istanbul.. The amazing tunnel beneath Bosporus… The grand mosque of Turkey.. And many other projects of the same magnitude and importance were completed during his government. Having successfully completed such projects in past, has also helped Erdogan with his election campaigns. But all these projects stand nowhere near the Istanbul canal project. Erdogan considers Istanbul canal his passion as well as of great national importance. Now, lets discuss the possible benefits of Istanbul canal for Turkey.
Istanbul canal will be a very heavy investment project and it will create numerous new jobs for people. With such a mega project, Erdogan wants to take the GDP of Turkey to $ 2 trillion, in 2023, on the 100th birthday of modern Turkey. It will make Turkey one of the biggest economy. According to Turk minister for communication, Turkey can generate an annual revenue of $ 1 billion from ships using the canal. The Turk government also wants to build apartments, housing projects, parks, hospitals and amusement parks for 500,000 people, on both side of canal.
And that can add another $ 3 billion annually, to the economy. With the development of a new city on the banks of canal, the Turk government also hopes to increase its foreign exchange. For this purpose, they are also attracting European and Arab investors to invest in real estate. According to newspaper reports, the Qatari Royal family has recently purchased a lot of land here. However, it has been heavily criticized by some members of opposition party. Despite the government claims of potential monetary benefits from this project,
some analysts believe that Erdogan’s real interest in this project is to establish a strategic position in the region. Erdogan considers Turkey to be the rightful and only beneficiary of Bosporus and its surrounding area. He believes that the Montreux agreement was forcefully imposed on Turkey due to its weak position after World War I. It is this agreement that allows ships to sail through their waters without any charge. However, the construction of Istanbul canal can transform the realities of this region.
It’s going to be an interesting question that whether or not the canal will come under the same conditions as put by Montreux agreement. Or it can by pass the agreement? Montreux agreement says that the countries not on Black Sea, such as USA, UK, Germany and France, can only sail through Bosporus to stay in Black Sea for just 21 days. After the construction of canal, America which is a NATO ally of Turkey, at least for now, it is still an ally, will be able to bring its arsenal to Black Sea for more than 21 days. And it’s not a violation of Montreux agreement as well.
If such a situation arises, the presence of American arsenal in Black Sea can be a serious concern for Russia. And it can be a source of destabilization in the region. It can be the start of another cold war. Using this loophole in the Montreux agreement, Turkey can force Black Sea countries for a new agreement. And Turkey can make use of its much stronger position in that new agreement. It will ensure financial, defense and strategic benefits for Turkey. The passion that Erdogran has for this project…
His shared by the Turk opposition, under the leadership of Istanbul’s current mayor, but only to oppose this project. The mayor of Istanbul has called this project a disloyality to Istanbul, a murderous project and even a white elephant. His poses this serious question that whether the declining financial situation of Turkey be able to sustain such a mega project. He believes that it’s not wise to invest such a huge capital in times like these. On the one hand, the political rivals of Erdogan are marching against this project.
While on the other hand, the supporters of Erdogan consider the protestors to be agents of European powers. And that they are standing against the Turk interest under foreign influence. The opposition also believes that this project will seriously damage the natural environment and ecosystem of the region. And due to this project, the forest in the north west of the city, will perish along with streams, springs, lakes and pastures. It will also endanger the existence of different species of birds, animals and plants.
They are saying this because 200,000 trees, spanned across 350 hectares of land, might have to be cut for this project. Some environment experts believe that building such a canal can also pollute the underground reserves of fresh water. And it will in turn make fresh water much rare for the inhabitants of Istanbul. According to the mayor of Istanbul, the only purpose of building a housing project for 1 million people by the canal side, is to give contracts to supporters of Erdogan in real estate business. He believes that Erdogan wants to gain political and financial benefits from this.
With an in flux of such a huge number of people, the city administration will be under immense pressure. Consequently, it will worsen the quality of life for citizens. Those against the project also believe that the canal will turn West Istanbul into an island. And it can turn out to be a serious weakness in terms of defense. Because it will be very difficult to give rescue services in face of any natural calamity. Are these concerns genuine?
This question will only be answered in the course of time. However, the question remains that why will the ships pay heavy fee to sail through this new canal. Especially when they already have a free route in Bosporus. What do you think? Do you think Erdogan is only doing this for political gains? Or is he sincerely doing all this to make Turkey a greater power. Do let us know of your opinion in the comments section. Thank you.
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