In secret talks, the German government is seeking to push forward a massive project to modernize Turkey’s railways. Berlin may help finance the multibillion-euro project, but faces criticism for cooperating with the autocrat from Ankara.
When Sultan Abdulhamid II ascended the throne of the Ottoman Empire in 1876, the Europeans had high hopes for the young ruler. He posed as a liberal, he was pro-European and he initiated reforms aimed at saving his empire from ruin — an empire mocked at the time as the “sick man of the Bosporus.”
To boost the economy of his giant empire, the Sultan decided to launch a vast railway project, reaching an agreement in 1898 with German Emperor Wilhelm II to build the strategically important Baghdad Railway. “With German help,” the Sultan wrote, we will succeed in building the railway connection, which is important not only for economic, “but also for political reasons.”
Now, 140 years later, another gigantic railway project is being planned for the NATO member state. Currently mired in a deep financial and currency crisis, Turkey aims to modernize its railway network with the help of foreign know-how and money.
As was the case more than a century ago, Germany is Turkey’s preferred partner. Around three months ago, envoys from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan contacted the German government to discuss the plan. A consortium led by Siemens is to build new railway lines, electrify old ones and install modern signaling technology in the country. German national railway Deutsche Bahn is also slated to help with the planning of the megaproject, which will include new high-speed lines throughout the country, including tunnels, overhead lines and rolling stock. The total value of the order is around 35 billion euros.