Tue, May 15, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Erdogan’s ‘crazy’ canal project alarms Turkish villagers

Reuters, SAZLIBOSNA, Turkey

The Bosphorus Strait is pictured from the window of a passenger aircraft over Istanbul, Turkey, on April 24. Turkey announced that the planned Kanal Istanbul waterway would relieve shipping traffic on the busy strait.

Photo: Reuters

When residents of Sazlibosna, a village near Istanbul, tried to attend a public meeting about the Turkish government’s plan to dig a 400m wide canal through their farmlands, they were stopped by police.

The 45km Kanal Istanbul is to link the seas north and south of Istanbul and ease traffic on the Bosphorus Strait, a major global shipping lane. It would also redraw the map of one of Europe’s biggest cities, turning its western side into an island.

Critics, including the national architects association, have questioned the need for the canal and warned that it would destroy an 8,500-year-old archeological site near Istanbul and cause widespread environmental damage.

The experience of the Sazlibosna villagers illustrates how the government has shut them out of an enterprise that could displace thousands. Estimated to cost about US$16 billion, the canal is one of the most ambitious of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s infrastructure mega-schemes.

He has publicly referred to it as his “crazy project.”

When the villagers, who described themselves as Erdogan supporters, arrived for the meeting in March in western Istanbul — a session intended to allow the public to voice concerns and learn about the project — they were met by police carrying rifles and tear gas who said the hall was full.

It was — with workers who told reporters that they had been bussed in from another government mega-project.

The villagers were stuck outside the hearing, in a crowd of more than a hundred people, including environmentalists, who were also not let in.

“The owners of these lands need to be inside,” said Sazlibosna administrator Oktay Teke, as he stood with the villagers outside the Arnavutkoy municipal building where the meeting was underway.

“If land is going to be expropriated, it will be our land — we will lose our homes,” he said.

In a decade and a half in power, Erdogan and his ruling AK Party have built roads, railways and hospitals and improved the lives of millions of lower-income, pious Turks. Under a state of emergency in effect since after a 2016 coup attempt, he has also overseen a sweeping crackdown against opponents.

Erdogan says the canal would take pressure off the Bosphorus Strait and prevent accidents there.

He says “mega-projects,” such as Istanbul’s third airport, are major contributors to the economy.

Yet, there is concern about overdevelopment.

The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects criticized the canal as an environmental and urban “disaster” that should be abandoned.

About 369,000 people live in the area that could be affected by the canal, according to the research company Turkish Data Analysis Center.

The canal would destroy archaeological sites around Lake Kucukcekmece, a lagoon that dates back to 6,500 BC and provides the earliest evidence of the Hittites in Thrace, the union said, adding that the lagoon’s ecosystem, vital for marine animals and migratory birds, would also be destroyed.

On the banks of Sazlidere Dam, Sazlibosna is surrounded by rolling hills and green fields of grazing sheep and cattle. The canal is to cut through that land, as well as land around nearly two dozen different villages and neighborhoods.

At the local tea house, villagers fear that the government will compulsorily purchase land that has been in their families for generations.

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