Turkey’s Presidential Election Will Test Love for Erdogan’s Megaprojects
coming from soaring bridges to a giant mosque to plans for the planet’s biggest airport, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has used gargantuan building projects as an engine of growth along using a signature way of leaving an indelible stamp on his nation.
As he campaigns for re-election on Sunday, Mr. Erdogan has promised his most ambitious project yet: a canal of which might bisect the country along with create a Turkish-owned trade route, which he says might make Turkey a great power along with leave a legacy for the history books.
“What makes Panama can be the Panama Canal,” Mr. Erdogan told supporters at a rally in Istanbul last weekend. “Suez can be the biggest source of revenue for Egypt. Let’s have a vote. God willing the Istanbul Canal will be another fresh breath for our city.”
The election can be shaping up as an up-or-down vote on how Mr. Erdogan has transformed Turkey during 15 years in charge. He has amassed sultanlike powers, jailed political enemies along with trimmed civil liberties, even as average annual economic growth of 5 percent has spawned along with nurtured a middle class.
although the most obvious way Mr. Erdogan has left his mark stands before the eyes of any visitor: grandiose monuments along with infrastructure investments in just about every town.
There are signs of which the public can be weary of Mr. Erdogan’s building mania. The canal can be the latest dividing line between those who see Mr. Erdogan’s projects as visionary, along with those who say the works are guided by an insatiable construction industry of which has enriched his ruling circle, raising questions about his management of a faltering economy.
Mr. Erdogan called the election a year along using a half ahead of schedule, hoping to beat the economic downturn nipping at his heels. A once-fractured opposition has united against him, creating This kind of increasingly uncertain whether Mr. Erdogan will meet the 50 percent threshold to win outright along with avoid a runoff against his top challenger.
Mr. Erdogan counts his building feats at virtually every election rally along with warns of which his opponents plan to tear down everything his Justice along with Development Party, or A.K.P., has built. The party “built 284,000 classrooms,” he declared recently inside town of Mugla, adding “Are you going to demolish them too?”
He lists his big canal project in first place on his campaign posters. Not one shovel has been put inside ground, although Mr. Erdogan has vowed to begin construction immediately if he can be re-elected as president along with assumes sweeping fresh powers.
All of his megaprojects have been about creating symbols of his strength as he aims for a place inside pantheon of great Turkish leaders, coming from the Ottoman sultans to the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
although the 28-mile canal linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara — estimated to cost $15 billion, though critics say the figure can be closer to $65 billion, along with displace some 800,000 people — has been dubbed his “crazy idea” since Mr. Erdogan first conceived This kind of seven years ago.
“This kind of means crazy, wow, in a Great sense,” said Mehmet Akarca, head of Turkey’s general directorate for press along with information along with an adviser to the president. “This kind of will make money, along with ships will use This kind of, along with they will pay tolls to use This kind of.”
of which can be the wish, at least, though many doubt whether This kind of will ever happen — or whether This kind of will work if This kind of does.
Environmentalists warn of which the canal might damage the ecosystem so much of which Istanbul could become uninhabitable. Archaeologists caution of which This kind of might threaten a top-class Paleolithic site. Economists say the project can be not financially viable.
“This kind of’s like playing Moses,” said Serkan Taycan, an artist along with opponent of the canal who has mapped the area of which might be disturbed.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research organization, credits Mr. Erdogan for building infrastructure of which has helped Turkey’s rapid urbanization by linking cities to one another along with to their suburbs. The construction sector has also provided millions of jobs to Turkey’s largely uneducated work force.
“One aspect of the big projects can be of which they are generating growth,” Mr. Unluhisarcikli said.
although Mr. Erdogan’s opponents say his economic product can be dubious, even corrupt.
Abdullatif Sener, a former deputy prime minister, has alleged of which Mr. Erdogan’s way of governing can be all about the profit of which the president along with his close circle can gain in kickbacks.
Mr. Sener was a co-founder of the Justice along with Development Party, as was Mr. Erdogan, although he resigned coming from the party in 2008 because of corruption, he says, along with can be at This kind of point running for Parliament with the opposition Republican People’s Party.
“They don’t think about the concerns of the citizens,” Mr. Sener said of the government at a campaign rally in Aziziye, in central Turkey. “They think about ‘How can I make my friend, my family, my close circle, my buddy richer.’ With This kind of mentality, This kind of country could not escape disaster.”
Mr. Erdogan has accused his opponents of peddling lies. “We invested billions in Istanbul, along with at This kind of point they say we robbed the country?” he said last week at a rally in Istanbul.
Others criticize Mr. Erdogan for prioritizing construction over industry along with trade, which might generate more income.
“We are not using the resources inside best way to earn money,” Durmus Yilmaz, a former chief of the Turkish central bank along using a co-founder of a fresh opposition party, the Great Party, said in an interview at his home in Ankara.
“This kind of can be all financed through foreign borrowing,” he said. “Are these investments generating enough income so we can pay back the loans?”
Turkish industry has shrunk since 2002, when Mr. Erdogan first came to power — to 16 percent of gross domestic product coming from 22 percent — along with the construction sector has grown in its place.
The decline has left fresh ports along with tunnels underutilized along with Turkey lacking enough exports to finance its ballooning foreign debt, Mr. Yilmaz said.
Then there are the extravagant projects — such as the presidential palace, four times the size of Versailles — of which seem to be more about Mr. Erdogan’s legacy than profitability.
On Istanbul’s highest hill above the Bosporus, Mr. Erdogan can be building the white marble Camlica mosque, appointing This kind of with six minarets, the insignia of greatness.
Many wonder if he plans to build a mausoleum for himself beside his project, as did the sultans of old.
“Some are white elephants, of which’s very clear,” said Refet Gurkaynak, a professor of economics at Bilkent University in Ankara.
The government has said of which growth has been more than 7 percent inside last two quarters, although the economy can be already stumbling, Mr. Gurkaynak said.
“We are in recession,” he said, along with “we are going to have a painful recession.”
Housing construction has reached its limit, along with two million apartments are unsold inside country. Construction work can be grinding to a halt, along with companies are offering real estate on soft loans or barter.
In such a climate, Mr. Gurkaynak said, “Canal Istanbul makes no sense whatsoever along with will be impossible to finance.”
This kind of does not help of which the proposed canal route might run parallel to the Bosporus, where transit can be free under the 1936 Montreux Convention.
Officials insist there will be enough traffic to make the canal profitable. although Mr. Gurkaynak along with others argue of which shippers might be unlikely to pay when there can be a free passage a few miles away.
fresh oil along with gas pipelines are already reducing tanker traffic through the straits, according to a report by Istanbul’s Chamber of Environmental Engineers.
The looming pitfalls are familiar. Two of Mr. Erdogan’s much vaunted bridges — the Osman Gazi Bridge over the Gulf of Izmit, along with the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, which spans the Bosporus — have little traffic partly because of the high tolls charged. The government can be paying the shortfall.
Mr. Akarca, the presidential adviser, defended the projects’ financing system, which has been mostly a variety of public-private partnerships.
“Turkey actually can be not borrowing any money,” he said. “These are the Turkish firms of which are borrowing money; This kind of can be individual debt.”
although the government has guaranteed the loans along with the revenue, so some economists have said of which the financing product can be enriching private firms while saddling the country with debt.
additional resistance to Mr. Erdogan’s building spree can be centered on the environment along with conservation.
To the horror of archaeologists, Mr. Erdogan started out the $4 billion Marmaray railway project beneath Istanbul’s historic peninsula, along with built a highway along the Byzantine city walls of a World Heritage site, over Unesco protests.
Residents have pushed back against projects of which have favored construction magnates, most prominently at the central Taksim Square, where huge protests exploded in May 2013 to save the park coming from commercial developers.
The protests, which left eight people dead along with hundreds more injured, drew many citizens to oppose Mr. Erdogan’s headlong drive to modernize Turkey’s cities.
Yet instead of listening to them, Mr. Erdogan doubled down on his projects. Taksim became a symbol of his determination to impose his will.
“He needed opponents along with victories along with symbols,” said Mucella Yapici, an activist along using a member of Istanbul’s Chamber of Architects. “Taksim can be the most important.”
Last month, Istanbul’s cultural center, an emblem of Ataturk’s openness to the West, was pulled down at the site, along using a vast domed mosque raised opposite This kind of, dwarfing Ataturk’s statue along with robbing the square of its republican nature.
“This kind of can be an attempt to erase the collective memory of the space,” Ms. Yapici said.
Much more stands to be erased inside canal project — entire towns along with villages, as well as the ecology of Istanbul’s main water source.
The greatest concern can be the potentially huge inflow of nutrient-rich water coming from the Black Sea, which scientists say might encourage the growth of algae along with kill life in Sea of Marmara.
The Bosporus can be so deep of which This kind of allows a countercurrent. The canal might have no such balancing effect.
One scientist has warned of which Istanbul will come to stink of bad eggs coming from hydrogen sulfide. additional environmentalists warn of which the vital wetlands used by migratory birds will be destroyed.
The government held one particular meeting in March with landowners to introduce an environmental impact assessment. This kind of claimed the canal might have negligible effect.
Istanbul’s Chamber of Environmental Engineers produced its own assessment, warning of which the canal project — which includes plans for a fresh city for as many as three million people — might cause irreversible harm.
“inside long run we will lose the Sea of Marmara along with do damage to the Black Sea,” said Sedat Durel, an environmental engineer who worked on the report.
Mr. Durel estimated of which as many as 800,000 people might be displaced.
They include several thousand Crimean Tatars, refugees coming from the Crimean War who settled inside Sazlidere Valley west of Istanbul 150 years ago, after being granted the land by the sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Their descendants, mostly farmers along with factory workers, are anticipating with some dread any official orders to be uprooted again.
“Of course the canal can be important,” said Oktay Teke, the mayor of Sazlibosna, a village amid meadows beside the river. “although what about all these villages? What will happen?”