When 92,468 petitions were filed against the so-called Kanal Istanbul project, it was possibly the biggest organized objection in the recent history of this country. The government took this opportunity — just when negative reactions had peaked— as the best time to make a demoralizing move: the positive Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) report was issued. Just as they failed to recognize objections saying they were violating the constitution, they showed that they were indifferent to objections to the ÇED report as well. 

This process will continue, objections will go on, lawsuits will be filed, and we will still play this game that they have set up by their rules. Even though we know that they will not observe these rules, we will keep on playing this game.

We have not talked about the essence of the problem, but instead, we have restrained the debates to matters such as the earthquake risk, climate change, drought, and the ecological and spatial dimensions of the project. How can we win this process if we never refer to the “extreme profit” issue properly?  

Kanal Istanbul will be an investment of 20 billion dollars, it was reported. In other words, we will pay these 20 billion dollars. Journalist Çiğdem Toker says that, for instance, for each of the bridges to be built across the new canal, every year we will pay 3.4 billion dollars. This amount of pillaging is the same as all of the privatization and state-private partnerships done until now. Nobody is telling us how much we will continue paying after the project is built, what we will lose, or who will profit from what, but it’s not too tough to predict the answers to these questions. 

One billion lira of undeserved profit

Let’s recall the argument that happened between former main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy and businessman Sinan Aygün and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, which involved bribery accusations. Aygün built the TOGO towers, an office and shopping complex, in Ankara’s Çankaya district as buildings with 120,000 square meters of space on a lot that was just 12,082 square meters. With such a limitless development ratio, it emerged that some one billion lira of unearned profit was on the table from this project. As a matter of fact, Sinan Aygün, who owns half of the project, has access to 570 million lira of this unjust profit, demonstrating how much money is involved in these kinds of land usage arrangements.  

In other words, one TOGO project means 12,000 square meters of land can translate to almost one billion lira in unjust profit. 

It’s not so easy to say that so much profit can be obtained unjustly from just one lot of land in a period in which so many people also have difficulty paying their heating bill.

Now, with the corruption of the TOGO project in mind, let us imagine the kind of real estate graft we will have with Kanal Istanbul.

In mid-December, we learned that the mother of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah, bought 44,000 square meters of land in the Kanal Istanbul area. In other words, this is more than triple the amount of land used for the TOGO project.

A couple of weeks later, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said some 30 million square meters of land in the area had changed hands, and that at the forefront of this purchase were three Arab capital owners. Then we learned that these three investors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had bought more than 300,000 square meters of land. In other words, 25 times the area of the TOGO lot.

Frankly, we expected the names on the list to be disclosed. They were not. This situation weakened the power of the objections to the environmental report. Moreover, it even encouraged government representatives. They were able to circulate news stories in the press that members of the CHP had also purchased several lots in the area. This presented a huge opportunity for them to water down opposition to the canal.

In the past couple of days, news stories have appeared that Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Erdoğan, had bought 13,000 square meters of land in the canal area. Thus, the son-in-law has also purchased a lot equivalent to the land for one TOGO project.

Real Turks buying land from the canal

Exactly at the time when the question of “who are the other investors?” was being asked, the Turkish team of Deutsche Welle went to the Kanal Istanbul route and interviewed locals. Their story disclosed that behind the popular “Qatari investors” discourse, the reality was that the investors were Turkish. A realtor they spoke to said that well-known corporate names like Kalyon Group had purchased 115,000 square meters, Ege Chemical 202,000 square meters, Sabancı 600,000 square meters and the Koç Group more than that. In other words, more than 1.5 million square meters of land have been sold — about 125 times the TOGO lot.

Well, the TOGO land area was 12,000 square meters and it translated to one billion lira of undeserved income. On the other hand, Kanal Istanbul means 30 million square meters of land changing hands for these extreme profits — and the only difference is that just the examples mentioned in this article have 150 times the land of the TOGO project.

Kanal Istanbul is a project based on unjust profit-earning that is well-known first to Turkish companies, followed by Arab, European, and even Pakistani capital owners. But we still don’t know the full truth of what is going on with the project.

Good that we do not know, because if we did, the Kanal Istanbul project would end immediately.