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Read The World Today

Why Turkey is Transforming Istanbul Into an Island

12 min read
Turkey

this is istanbul it’s the largest city in the world with territory on two continents europe and asia more than 15 million people live here which makes it the seventh largest city in asia and the number one largest city in europe it’s also one of the most famous and well-known cities that humanity has ever built.

it has served as the capital city for three great historical empires the romans the byzantines and the ottomans and it’s been the largest city in the world on two separate historical occasions during both the 7th and 17th centuries.

today nearly 1 out of every 5 turks live in istanbul the city accounts for over half of all turkey’s trade and it has an economy larger than the entirety of south africa most of istanbul’s power and influence upon the world is rooted in the city’s geography and excellent strategic location.

it’s positioned directly adjacent to this the bosphorus straight a narrow water passage that divides europe from asia and connects the black sea with the aegean and mediterranean historically it’s the only possible path that bulgaria romania ukraine georgia..

and the southwestern part of russia can use to reach the mediterranean sea and the global world ocean from there out of either the suez or gibraltar so obviously the bosphorus is absolutely critical to all of these countries for international trade but especially to russia the world’s second largest exporter of oil who has to ship nearly all of it from their ports here on the black sea that remain warm and ice-free year-round the bosphorus is basically.

the only way for these large russian oil tankers to get out into the world’s oceans but the strait is important to dozens of other countries as well because of this the danube this is the second longest river in europe and its mouth is located directly on the black sea the river flows for thousands of kilometers directly through important european cities like vienna bratislava budapest and belgrade.

since 1992 it also connects directly to the rhine river and the port of rotterdam europe’s largest commercial trading hub cargo ships traveling between shanghai the busiest port in asia and rotterdam the busiest port in europe will almost always travel through the suez canal and will then sometimes choose to pass through the bosphorus into the danube across into the rhine and then up to rotterdam all of this contributes to making the bosphorous strait one of the busiest trade routes in the entire world with more than three times the commercial traffic as the suez canal sees and it makes istanbul one of earth’s most strategic locations but despite that turkey itself benefits very little from this possession today they literally make zero dollars from it.

they can’t allow certain allied warships through it and in order to fix all of that turkey is planning on transforming istanbul their biggest and most important city into an island and here’s why in 1923 after the first world war in the turkish war of independence the new turkish republic signed the treaty of lausanne which demilitarized the turkish straits and opened them up to unrestricted civilian maritime traffic but by the 1930s with the rise of fascist italy and her colonies directly off of the turkish coast the mediterranean’s.

geopolitical situation had changed dramatically and turkey sought to alter the terms of lausanne this led directly to the montreal convention of 1936 which enabled turkey to re-militarize the straits in order to protect themselves from italy.

and it heavily restricted the ability of non-black sea adjacent powers from sending any warships through while it also guaranteed the free passage of all civilian commercial ships in times of both peace and war and outlawed turkey from ever being able to charge or collect any tolls or fees at the time this was a great deal for turkey.

because it all but guaranteed their neutrality during the second world war and it was a boon for the soviet union because it would end up preventing any axis warships from being able to enter into the black sea for the entirety of the second world war but over the decades since world war ii ended numerous controversies have been raised over the treaty’s status immediately after the war ended the soviets demanded joint control with turkey over the bosphorus and a permanent soviet military presence.

there turkey rejected these demands but the soviets got clever the montreal convention established that no more than nine foreign warships with a total aggregate tonnage of 15 000 tons may pass through the bosphorus at any one single time so to cheese the system a bit the soviets would simply keep one of their own larger warships inside of the bosphorus at all times that would almost always maximize the 15 000 tons of foreign warships allowed inside of the bosphorus.

Turkey Istanbul

In effect this prevented any other powers besides turkey from ever being able to pass any warships through so turkey knew that they couldn’t resist the soviet union’s pressure alone and so in 1952 they decided to join nato which only further provoked the soviet’s reaction towards the strait now being effectively in the hands of their cold war adversaries but the united states hasn’t been very happy with the arrangement either non-black sea nations warships are severely restricted with ever being able to use the bosphorus including the united states ships with gun calibers larger than 8 inches are on the ban list so to get around it in the 1960s.

the united states sent missile cruisers through the soviets of course protested this but turkey argued successfully that the missiles aboard the u.s ships weren’t in fact actually guns and that since such weapons didn’t exist back in 1936 when the treaty was signed they were not part of the restrictions however the convention is still a hindrance to u.s military buildup in the black sea i mean the u.s navy is literally everywhere and they’d like to go for the 100 completion achievement in the black sea too.

but montreal limits their ability to send any significant large ships through the bosphorus like say aircraft carriers and submarines in 1994 the united nations convention on the law of the sea or unclose came into force that largely defines the rights and responsibilities of nations out on the world’s oceans nearly every country in the world has signed on to this agreement except for notably turkey and the united states even though the treaty would place the bosphorous straight within turkish territorial waters and theoretically overrule the montreal convention and give turkey greater autonomy over administrating.

it they have always refused to sign it because doing so would also surrender nearly the entire aegean sea to greece’s territorial waters while the u.s largely refuses to sign because it would place the critical northwest passage within canadian territorial waters rather than international waters so the turks are therefore legally still stuck with the clunky and dated terms of the 1936 montreal convention that restricts their ability to make any money and restricts u.s warships from being able to access the black sea america and turkey’s interests are therefore both directly aligned with subverting both unclose and montreau.

so in order to get around both of them and have their cake and eat it too turkey could theoretically just build an artificial canal directly adjacent to the natural bosphorus strait this is because technically the restrictive terms of the montreal convention only apply to the bosphorous strait itself or so argues turkey by building an artificial canal directly next to the bosphorus and transforming istanbul itself into an island turkey argues that it could begin charging tolls there and finally begin allowing us and nato aircraft carriers and submarines into the black sea for the first time and this is all exactly what turkey is planning on doing with their istanbul canal megaproject which just began construction a few months ago back in march of 2021 the plan currently is to construct the canal 30 kilometers to the west of the bosphorus on the european side of turkey.

make it 45 kilometers long from end to end for comparison the suez canal is nearly 200 kilometers long so from an engineering perspective the boss first canal is totally doable but turkey’s stated reasons for constructing the canal however have nothing to do at all with bypassing the montreal convention as one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes the boss first strait is almost always massively congested with traffic over 41 000 ships will pass through the narrow strait every year.

when arriving ships usually have to join a queue and wait an average of 14 hours just to pass through and sometimes they have to wait for days when it’s especially busy hundreds of ships will literally just be sitting outside of the strait at a time waiting for their turn to pass through and that’s all without some idiot getting their ship stuck inside building a canal adjacent to the bosphorus would immediately help alleviate a lot of this traffic and turkey claims that it will be capable of supporting up to 160 ships crossing per day about the same number of transits that are currently just passing through the bosphorus.

it would also help divert a lot of the dangerous cargo passing through the bosphorus right next door to the istanbul city center 15 million people live nearby the shores of the bosphorus and as has been seen by incidents like the beirut explosion or the halifax explosion from the past dangerous cargo like munitions oil or fertilizer pose a severe risk of explosion during a collision event such an incident taking place in the bosphorus isn’t entirely unlikely given the huge amount of oil and natural gas.

russia ships through it not to mention russian and turkish warships submarines the huge number of transits per day the busy ferry traffic that criss crosses between istanbul’s two sides and the difficult to navigate waters and most of these factors weren’t even present in places like beirut or halifax and those still happened so probably better to divert all of that dangerous cargo west along a new canal away from the city center anyway.

the only problem to that line of argument is that turkey also wants to extensively develop the banks of the new canal with brand new real estate the entire canal project is a part of turkey’s vision 2023 plan and once hopefully finished by then will mark the centennial anniversary of the modern turkish republic’s existence the canal will link up with the newly constructed istanbul airport which.

when fully completed in the middle of the 2020s will be the largest airport in the world capable of accommodating 200 million passengers a year turkey expects that the canal’s construction will cost approximately 15 billion dollars and it’s monstrously controversial on the plus side the turkish government expects that the canal will alleviate congestion in the bosphorus strait speed up international trade divert dangerous cargo from istanbul city center open up more developed real estate and provide a way to finally monetize their geostrategic location with tolls and fees that could be as high according to them as eight billion dollars a year which would be 30 percent higher revenue than the suez canal generates for egypt but critics believe that well pretty much none of that is actually going to happen first of all constructing the canal is only going to serve a means for turkey to bypass the montreal convention not overturn it merchant ships are still going to be guaranteed free and unrestricted access to the bosphorous even after the canal is built so many people pretty rightfully wonder.

how turkey will convince people to actually use it turkey argues that the canal will basically serve as a quicker express lane that ships can move through to avoid the long wait times that are seen at the bosphorus and they plan to make the bus first wait times even worse to encourage the canal’s use a little more the montreal convention grants turkey the authority to screen all ships passing through the bosphorus for sanitary and environmental safety so theoretically turkey could and probably would expand on this authority to make very very long sanitary and or environmental checks on all ships passing through.

the bosphorus but offer no such checks through their canal that people are actually paying to use still though it’s feared by many that a lot of ships just aren’t going to care and will choose to continue using the bosphorus for free even if the wait times are a bit longer it’s sort of like how people feel about using youtube premium.

but that’s neither here nor there anyway the canal itself will also necessitate the displacement of thousands of residents who currently live within its direct path it’ll probably do untold environmental damage by contaminating istanbul’s groundwater destroy a major reservoir that provides for one-fifth of istanbul’s already strained drinking water supply and more interestingly some of the property along the canal’s planned route is already owned by members of the qatari royal family and by this guy barat al-baryak,

the turkish minister of finance and the son-in-law of president erdogan himself meaning that he would personally benefit from the canal’s resulting real estate development and even further china has ambitions with serbia and greece to potentially construct.

their own canal from the aegean directly into the danube river which if built would provide a way for ships to completely circumvent the entire bosphorus anyway by moving between the aegean danube and black sea.

it as a result of all of these factors the istanbul canal is heavily opposed within istanbul itself with one poll suggesting that a full 80 percent of istanbul citizens are opposed to its construction and a mere eight percent supporting it.

but the canal is also heavily opposed by many outside powers most notably and obviously russia turkey and by extension nato and the united states argue that the montreal convention will not apply to the new istanbul canal and that could theoretically enable massive u.s ships aircraft carriers and submarines into the black sea for the very first time right on russia’s doorstep near critical locations such as crimea ukraine and the donbass region.

where russia is actively fighting a war naturally russia rather enjoys the current status quo then enables their warships to come and go as they please while restricting their enemies movements so they argue that the montro convention would still apply to the istanbul canal and that would also mean that legally turkey wouldn’t be able to charge any fees or collect any revenue for their 15 billion canal investment.

so if the canal ends up being built it will probably massively strain relations between russia and turkey and also as a bonus probably jeopardize russia’s monopoly of power in the black sea near their critical ambitions in ukraine because of all these potential foreign consequences 104 former turkish admirals and naval officers signed an open letter expressing their objection to the canal’s construction citing that the montreal convention guaranteed turkish neutrality during times of war and prevented conflict from ever breaking out in the black sea between the united states and russia.

that bypassing it could open turkey and the black sea up to future conflict but the very next day 10 of these admirals were arrested and jailed by the turkish government effectively quashing all of their resistance president erdogan and the turkish government are fully committed to completing the istanbul canal by 2023.

which will change istanbul’s turkeys and the world’s geography and reality forever the boss first strait is vitally important for several industries and resources but perhaps none are as important as wheat russia and ukraine are the world’s largest and fifth largest exporters of wheat respectively and together they export more wheat than the entire north american continent does combined the middle east alone absorbs more than 80 percent of these massive eastern european wheat exports which means that the vital flow of food to the middle east and money to russia and ukraine inevitably all flows directly through.

the bus for a straight and any disruption in that supply chain can prove to have catastrophic consequences like it did in 2010 that year russia and ukraine experienced a once in a century drought event that crippled their wheat production and in a bid to protect her own domestic wheat farmers russia temporarily banned all of her weed exports eighty percent of the middle east’s wheat imports were suddenly and immediately cut off leading to widespread food shortages which in part contributed to the arab spring event that year that led to revolution and civil wars across the arab world any disruption in the bosphorus could hypothetically lead to similar events taking place which is why this tiny straight is so important to so many people outside of turkey at the end of the day.

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