Erdoğan’s Istanbul Canal: Destroying Nature or a “Crazy Project”?

Picture of By Emre Yalçın

By Emre Yalçın

April 11, 2014, was the first time the term “Kanal Istanbul” was used by the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The project aimed to prevent any risks caused by the hazardous tankers by creating a parallel waterway to the Bosphorus. The proposed canal is 45 km long, 20,75 meters deep and 275 meters wide in the narrowest point.  The government also aims to build two urban areas on both sides of the canal. Despite the negative reactions from the public, opposition parties, and the Mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan says that “we will build the canal anyway”. President Erdoğan is very certain about the construction of the canal. He suggests “whatever they (mentioning the opposition) do we will build it”. Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu (who is a member of the main opposition party CHP) names the canal as the “cement canal”.  But who is right?


The canal is dangerous for the natural habitat around the area that it is proposed. Marine scientist Cemal Saydam in his commentary to Deutsche Welle Türkçe said fish would die because of this canal, the ecological systems in Marmara, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea will be subject to change. In the same video, forest engineer Doğanay Tolunay mentioned the importance of the natural ecosystems in the proposed route of the canal. It would be an end for the endemic species living on the ground.

Findings in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report sure signs the scientists’ concerns. There are 12 species of the land in global danger of extinction, there are 13 endemic species and many more non-endemic species that would be at threat of death with this project. It’s important to note that Turkey is a countersign to the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats since 1984, but are they still upholding their promises?  Execution of the project will be against this convention as a result of stamping out the natural habitats for the species. The government on the other hand suggests that the canal will not be affecting any of these habitats and the responsibility will be undertaken by them. Also, when necessary active control will be performed.

Earthquake Reality

The North Anatolian Fault is running under Istanbul. In 1999, a sorrowful earthquake happened in İzmit, nearly 100 km away from Istanbul. It had huge effects on both of the cities and over 17000 people died. Scientists believe that this proposed canal has a high risk of being affected by earthquakes as a result of the structure of the soil in the area.

However, the government suggests that there is low to no risk of an earthquake caused by the construction of the Istanbul Canal. Though, on the government website dedicated to the canal, there is no information about what is the effect of an earthquake on the newly built city but only information about that the canal would not cause any earthquakes on its own. Thus, the canal could cause another tragedy in the area.


The most important question is: why is this canal necessary? The first reason is the income that the Turkish government would earn. The Istanbul Canal is aimed to be built with cooperation between the government and private investments. The proposed cost is nearly 21 billion American dollars but according to many experts due to the high rise of the surplus prices up to 40 billion dollars can be expected as a final cost. At the same time, according to the reports the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure published, there is a decrease in the number of ships passing through the Bosphorus.

There is also a decline in the naval traffic yet the government wants to build a canal, reasoning about the increased numbers of vessels and investing around 25 billion dollars into a canal, it sounds senseless right? Well, there is another reason behind it. In the Global South (a term first used by Carl Oglesby in 1969 implying less developed countries), there is a huge increase in the numbers of new cities. These cities are generally aimed to develop a certain business model. They might be named health cities or tech cities. Allegedly, the Turkish government also wants to turn these two sides of the proposed Istanbul Canal into a new banking capital of the country. With the marketing miracle, now there are lots of so-called “promised” investors from all around the world. Nevertheless, the investors are especially people from the Arabian Peninsula. These financiers are already buying estates (empty agricultural plots) in the route of the proposed canal.


A natural alternative to this proposed canal is the Bosphorus. In respect to international law, all commercial ships entering or exiting from the Black Sea have freedom of navigation. This means that, even though the Turkish government wants to direct a ship to the canal, the captain of that ship still has the right to use Bosphorus as the preferred waterway. If you followed the news for the last couple of months, you might have seen the accident in the Suez Canal. Vessel captains argue that the canals are not safe enough to operate and the natural waterways are always preferable. The main argument of the government to secure the Bosphorus’s naval security now goes to pot.

Globally decreasing naval traffic, the international law that gives the vessel captains the ability to choose between the waterways and negative impact on nature gives an idea that the proposed Istanbul Canal is not in favour of neither the Turkish citizens nor the nature’s residents. In conclusion, let me ask you: is there a reason to build such a “crazy” project?


Cover by: Burak Kebapci

Edited By: Younes Skalli

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