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Istanbul Island

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There is little, if any, disagreement: Come Sunday, the AKP will waltz away with a comfortable majority in Turkey’s 550-seat parliament. Whether or not everyone’s favorite conservative “Islamist” party will have free rein by winning the necessary 367 seats (two-thirds of parliament) is still in question, but there is still no denying that “Papa Tayyip” and his crew will be around for a while. What this truly means for Turkey’s future is anyone’s guess, but we can probably expect a familiar political trajectory for the next few years.

In short, the show will go on.

But that’s enough well-tempered thought. As Turkey’s 17th general election draws near, it is time to reflect on the true meaning of the election season, extravagant promises. Preferably expensive. And as far as big expensive campaign promises go, Erdoğan is hard to beat.

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s proposed “Kanal İstanbul,” at 40 to 50 kilometers long, 150 meters wide, and 25 meters deep, would be quite the undertaking. And before you diminish the project in light of the even-longer Panama and Suez canals, recall that the Kanal İstanbul would be cutting through part of Istanbul, a city of over 13 million.

So what is the rationale behind this “crazy”—and no doubt expensive—project? Erdoğan’s spoken motivation seems to be to cut down on tanker traffic, and thereby limit the amount of hazardous cargo that makes its way through the Bosphorus daily. With decreased commercial traffic, the inhabitants of Istanbul would be safer, the Bosphorus would be open to “water sports” and intra-city transport, and “(Istanbul) [would] return to its former days.”

Except in its former days, Istanbul was not part-island, as it would be if a new waterway cut through the European landmass. Indeed, it would be quite the geographical modification for the sole purpose of redirecting undesirable traffic into someone else’s backyard. Erdoğan even proposed that residential districts be set up along the new canal, presumably to enjoy the traffic that the Bosphorus districts would be grateful to redirect.

Altogether, the “project” seems to be an expensive non-solution (although the water sports sounded nice), which is why I categorize it as no more than the “campaign promise” of a self-fashioned visionary.

As Erdoğan himself noted, at 140 million tons annually the amount of petroleum shipped through the Bosphorus eclipses any other figure. With this in mind—if a solution to Bosphorus traffic is on the horizon—it will probably involve displacing this figure not with a canal but with overland pipelines, eliminating the need for the majority of the offending traffic (and allowing Turkey to collect small tariffs for its trouble, unlike with the Bosphorus). Of course, like the upcoming elections, only time will tell.

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Written by M. James

June 10, 2011 at 6:55 pm

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