Rather than address the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, the government has been primarily focusing on President Erdoğan’s Kanal Istanbul project, announcing a new plan a couple of days ago.
The government’s persecution of the retired admirals who warned the public about the project, news about a Chinese company preparing for the tender, and the details of the Social Impact Assessment Report gave us plenty of information. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) is even preparing a model petition to object to the project. (You can sign the petition until April 24, and you can file a complaint through the Directorate of Communications (CİMER).)
The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, said, “The government stubbornly insists on a huge project which is the ultimate betrayal project to Istanbul. This is an anti-national project. It’s a reinforced concrete canal. It does not have any other meaning and we will fight against it until the end.”
Anti-national, concrete, betrayal, and fight are keywords here, but they don’t make sense given the current situation.
First, it is a national project. Second, if there is a betrayal, why doesn’t anyone say so? Third, yes, Kanal Istanbul is a concrete project, but everyone loves concrete, its production, sale and use. Fourth, the fight against the construction of the channel is just for show. This situation shows us yet another opposition failure. We know that this kind of opposition ‘action’ will not get us anywhere.
In reality, the opposition’s approach to the Kanal Istanbul problem is to get the public used to it in small doses. The opposition’s language minimizes the primary facets of the problem such as the drop in drinking water capacity, threat of drought, loss of agricultural lands, and destruction of forests.
If the reality of the situation is laid out plainly, the project would not stand a chance. But if they oppose the project in small doses, they will aid in its construction. Time and time again we have witnessed the uselessness of this kind of opposition: when the presidential palace was built on the Atatürk Forest Farm’s land, when the bridge over the Dardanelles was planned, when Mount Ida was opened up to gold mining, and when a third bridge and a new airport were being built in the northern forests of Istanbul. However even compared to these disastrous projects, the Kanal Istanbul project is a giant production.
What the opposition shouldn’t do
First and foremost, the opposition should not help the government by emphasizing nationalism as opposed to pro-Arab sentiments. It is rumored that 4,800 decares of land via 476 deed transactions changed hands in 2014-2018. Available data gives use access to only two-thirds of these transactions.
I examined the owners of 3,445 decares of land along the canal project. The top five biggest owners are Süleyman Çetinsaya with 700 decares, the Sabancı family with 600 decares, Mustafa Tıraş with 500 decares, Erol Tabanca with 249.8 decares, and Ege Kimya with 202 decares.
Second, foreign capital and foreign countries are also involved in this matter. But the opposition is only focusing on a couple of names contributing a mere 352 decares of land.
Third, do not object to concrete when you yourself apply concrete politics. In the previous weeks, I wrote that the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality made 980 zoning decisions, but no decisions regarding women’s shelters or pedestrianization. What did the İBB do during the first three months of 2021? It approved 261 zoning/development decisions. The AKP has a ‘Concrete Istanbul’ project, while the İBB, ruled by the main opposition CHP, does not have any alternative project other than a similar ‘Concrete Istanbul’ project. Competing to see who can pour more concrete will only contribute to Kanal Istanbul.
Fourth, the project may have the name Kanal Istanbul, but this is not the name of the policy. Many institutions left Ankara and moved to Istanbul and almost all investments were made in the eastern parts of the Marmara Sea over the years. Think about what it means to construct something like a ring system passing through the Dardanelles. The AKP is playing ‘nice’ with global capitalists and placing the Istanbul-Bursa line among the world’s 29 megaregions. This area, which we can call the IST-BUR megaregion, is the world’s 17th largest economic region, with a population of 14.8 million and an income of 626 billion dollars. The AKP transfers all the country’s resources to this area and is establishing the new regime of the 21st century.
The fifth and most important point is hidden in the new regime’s indicators. The canal is not only a canal, it is a trench. It is like those from the Middle Ages. At present, those who want to enter Istanbul from the east must pay a toll on one of the three Bosporus bridges. If the Kanal doesn’t have seven bridges built on it, won’t the people entering the city from the west have to pay more toll? Istanbul will become a city which you can’t enter freely and people will become slaves to that mega region. When drought hits - and it will - people will have to pay more for water.
Kanal Istanbul is not a project, it is a global capitalist model. You must understand the dynamics of concrete to have an insight into this model. And you can’t try to understand it while mixing the concrete for it.
Now, we are watching a fast forward action movie, titled, “How not to fight Kanal Istanbul?” The AKP’s audacity has emerged. The party talks about the Montreux Treaty (1936) and negotiates with certain countries. It makes deals with them to give them loans and privileges. The opposition does not discuss this new economic model, the elephant in room, but points to the mouse instead.
Once we open our eyes, we will see past the tip of the iceberg and this illusion will be shattered. But still people are beating around the bush. Does the opposition want to stop this project or is it thinking that, “This government is on the brink of collapse. I will profit from the project later.”
A parallel ‘cement-themed’ local governance in Istanbul is not the right way of opposing nor is showing hostility towards Arabs. The problems of drought and water scarcity are the points the opposition should focus on.
Kanal Istanbul is not a project; it is a model for Turkey’s future. It is a national model of a Turkey where there’s money and where we aren’t included. It’s an alternative regime being offered up to the world on a concrete platter.
This model may look bad to you but be assured, it has plenty of fans!