Justin Vela

Coal mining in Turkey

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Am posting this a little late. Last month, I visited a coal mine in Turkey’s northern Zonguldak province. Situated along the Black Sea coast, Zonguldak produces most of Turkey’s coal.

Descending into the mine was not for the faint-hearted. Last January, eight miners died after a methane gas leak. But the miners do it everyday, despite the dangers.

Here is the story

Written by Justin Vela

September 14, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Tea farming along Turkey’s Black Sea coast

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Given all the movement regarding Syria, the United States, and Russia, a story on tea farming in Turkey is perhaps out of place now.

But that is precisely the story I published recently with EurasiaNet.org.

Turkey: Tea farming to be privatized?” is a dispatch from Turkey’s Black Sea province of Rize. Tea is a major industry there, and has been for decades. The Turkish government’s current focus on free market enterprise and privatization has many tea farmers concerned about the future of a public tea company that buys tea leaves at a subsidized price.

The story includes a nice photo essay by Istanbul-based photographer Mathias Depardon.

Written by Justin Vela

September 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Tea farming in Turkey’s Rize province

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Tea farming in Turkey's Rize Province

Tea farming in Turkey’s Rize Province. August 2013. 

Today I am writing up a story on tea farming in Turkey and the struggle between public and private companies.


The story will be published by EurasiaNet.org in the coming days.

Written by Justin Vela

September 2, 2013 at 11:02 am

Posted in Bosporus Blog, turkey

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Black Sea coast…

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Have been traveling along Turkey’s Black Sea coast for more than a week now.

The trip is wrapping up and I’m writing the stories.

After living in Turkey for three years my biggest regret is not spending more time outside of Istanbul, the city that in many ways defines the country, but does not represent it.

Stories to follow…

Photo: Coal miners prepare for work in Turkey’s Zonguldak Province.


Written by Justin Vela

August 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Bosporus Blog, turkey

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Witnesses say police responsible for death of Turkish protester

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Several witnesses to the June 2 beating of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, a 19-year-old anti-governement demonstrator in the central Anatolia city of Eskişehir, have said plainclothes police are responsible for the attack, according to local media.

Kormaz died on July 10 due to the severity of the attack.

Last week The National published my wrap on the deaths in the anti-government demonstrations that rocked Turkey over the past weeks.

“The police as the representative of the state can kill you,” said Zozan Pehlivan, a 31-year-old student and anti-government demonstrator in Istanbul. “It doesn’t matter what you protest … the police can kill you and nothing will happen.”

In addition to Korkmaz, protester Mehmet Ayvalitas was hit by a car that drove into a crowd of demonstrators in Istanbul. Abdullah Comert was killed after being hit by a police tear-gas canister in Antakya, a city in the south of the country. In Ankara, Ethem Sarisuluk, 26, was shot in the head by a pistol-wielding police officer.

A police officer in the southern city of Adana also died after falling off a bridge while chasing protesters.

But Sarisuluk’s death in particular has drawn the ire of those opposed to the government. In a video of the killing on June 1, a lone police officer fires his pistol in the direction of the demonstrators. One of the nine millimeter bullets hits Sarisuluk in the head and he collapses.

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There are a lot of questions to be answered about the aggressive behavior of police forces during the protests, and also the impunity with which they doled out violence. Human Rights Watch has called on Turkish authorities to improve its guidelines for using tear gas.

Written by Justin Vela

July 18, 2013 at 9:55 am

Turkey: From Gezi Park to Yedikule Gardens

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A Turkish couple looks at a construction project near Istanbul's central Taksim Square.

A Turkish couple looks at a construction project near Istanbul’s central Taksim Square.

Turkey’s economy is heavily dependent on construction. But it generally comes with deconstruction.

Istanbul’s central Gezi Park was supposed to be torn down to build a replica of an Ottoman-era mosque. Now, some of the Yedikule gardens, which date back to the 6th Century, will be destroyed for a municipality built park.

Critics claim that the gardens’ demolition, coming on the heels of the Gezi Park protests, are another example of the primacy of government construction schemes over all other considerations.

“When you do something like this, it’s like cutting [down] the trees in Gezi Park. It’s the same concept,” said Alessandra Ricci, an Italian archeologist who studied the site and criticized UNESCO for not speaking out about the gardens’ destruction. “The authorities are destroying the city’s cultural heritage.”

“Overall, the municipality are project-oriented people, but they don’t really care about what is lost,” agreed Gunhan Borekci, an assistant professor of history at Istanbul’s Sehir University who attended the Yedikule demonstration. At least one garden was already partially covered in dirt.

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What is the Turkish government and their contractor buddies thinking tearing down important symbols of this ancient city?

Profits and some hazy idea of renovation, most likely. Along with a strong “we know best” attitude.

Maybe not all the vegetable gardens around Istanbul’s old city walls will go. There are also many gardens outside the walls.

It’s the ones inside the walls that are now facing destruction, despite their centuries of existence.

But where does the destruction of Istanbul’s cultural symbols end?

Living in Istanbul often feels like one big construction site. The sounds of it echo throughout the day.

There’s money being made, yes. And many buildings are unsafe and need renovation.

Yet, there’s something deeply wrong in this scheme when weeks of  protests, sparked by a government renovation project, are not ending.

The determination and energy of these protests is increased by the uncompromising approach of the government.

At the same time, not all of Turkey is against the government projects. Some residents of the Yedikule area believe the building of a park will increase the value of their properties.

Today is the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and hundreds of anti-government demonstrators were allowed back into Gezi Park, the most in weeks. Hopefully all remains calm.

But in the end the protests that gripped Turkey are not about Gezi Park or the Yedikule gardens. They are about an entire system that these citizens believe should change.

Written by Justin Vela

July 9, 2013 at 7:44 pm

What next for Turkey’s “Occupy Gezi” protesters?

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Istanbul’s Taksim Square is calm after weeks of anti-government protests.

The demonstrations continue, sporadically, but it appears that the protesters are asking themselves: what is the next step?

Time will tell. For the moment here are two articles where I attempt to delve into some of the impact the protests might have.

Despite smothering government pressure, critics of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are finding new ways to make their voices heard.

Many say their goal now is to channel the energy of the Occupy Gezi protests into a wider opposition movement, with an aim of mounting opposition to Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in local elections in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2015, but without joining arms with any existing political force. Or resorting to violence.

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This second article is centered largely on Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is the focus of the protesters’ anger.

In response, it appears that Erdogan has chosen an inward-looking policy, as local and presidential elections approach next year.

While at the start of the demonstrations, various AKP officials appeared willing to compromise with the protesters, they have now closed ranks around Erdogan.

If there is internal debate within the AKP about the divisive response to the protests, it is only happening on a personal basis.

“His party members are not in a state of debating anything now. They are on a war footing,” Candar said.

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Anti-government demonstrators engage in a water pistol fight in Istanbul's Taksim Square on Saturday May 29, 2013 , a symbolic protest against police violence.

Anti-government demonstrators engage in a water pistol fight in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Saturday May 29, 2013 , a symbolic protest against police violence.



Written by Justin Vela

July 2, 2013 at 9:08 am

Posted in Published work, turkey

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