Justin Vela

Archive for the ‘The Middle East’ Category

Ahead of Washington talks, Turkey ‘all in’ with the Syrian opposition

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Turkey suffered a shock over the weekend as nearly 50 people were killed and over a hundred injured in a double car bombing near the border with Syria.

While the regime of Bashar Al Assad was almost immediately blamed for the attack, nine Turkish citizens were the first people to be detained in connection with the bombing. This suggests that the Syrian regime maintains a sophisticated spy network in Turkey. I wrote about this for The National.

While Syria denied any involvement yesterday, there have been numerous allegations of Syrian regime agents operating in southern Turkey.

Most have been alleged attempts to kidnap Syrian opposition figures and defectors on Turkish soil and take them back across the border into Syria.

Read the full article

The bombing took place in Reyhanli, a town adjacent to the border with Syria where many Syrian refugees live. Reyhanli also serves as a hub for numerous aid workers and members of the Syrian opposition who go back and forth across the border.

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Written by Justin Vela

May 13, 2013 at 9:31 am

The Gülen Movement: Life beyond Fethullah Gülen?

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How will Turkey’s Gülen Movement function without its charismatic founder? This is a question I sought to cast light upon in an article published yesterday by EurasiaNet.org.

Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen, 72, has long been rumored to be in a precarious state of health. But well-informed followers offer assurances that the international network of schools, businesses, media-outlets, and civil-society organizations that his movement has built is prepared for a stable transition.

Gülen, who is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential Turkish theologians of his generation, has lived a quiet existence on a rural estate in the US state of Pennsylvania for the past 14 years. He is known to have diabetes, problems with the nerves in his knees and a weak immune system. “Any small sickness could have a big influence on him,” said Mustafa Yeşil, the head of the Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation, one of the movement’s most prominent organizations.

Read the entire article 

It was interesting to discuss this question, and others, with Mustafa Yeşil, a high-ranking member of the movement who meets with Mr Gülen regularly. Only a few years ago, it was very difficult to get any information about the movement. Now, as Yeşil noted, the movement is significantly more open and its members are willing to discuss even sensitive subjects like Gülen’s health.

The Gülen Movement: A quick reflection

The movement is not making so many headlines these days. But I always find it newsworthy, given their presence in more than a hundred countries around the world and high degree of influence in Turkey.

Even in the United States, members of the movement recently established the Rethink institute in Washington DC. Fevzi Bilgin, the head of the organization, told me that Rethink does not coordinate with the movement in Turkey. Bilgin described it as a research institute focused on contemporary issues that relate to the Turkish-American community, but

M. Hakan Yavuz, an expert on the movement, did not fully agree:

“When the leader dies, the movement dies with it, but it influences the next movement, it shapes the next Muslim movement,” Yavuz contended.

While he still maintains some connections, Yavuz is known to be critical of the movement. They are rumored to have hit back at him. But that is a different story.

I am looking forward to writing more about the movement in the next few weeks.

Written by Justin Vela

April 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Bosporus Blog…Turkey is going for its guns…And drones also…

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Wanting to elevate itself as a regional economic powerhouse and combat an uneven balance of trade, Turkey is, literally, going for its guns.

With an estimated value of $14 billion, Turkey’s military defence industry is on the rise, producing a range of weaponry both for domestic purposes and export.

Turkish media reported today that during January-February 2013 exports of weapons to the United States increased 5.6% over the same period last year.

I wrote about Turkey’s defense industry recently for beyondbrics from the Financial Times.

Not only are spare parts, tanks, helicopters, and boats being produced. The Turkish military just approved the country’s first domestically-made drone for serial production.

Everyone knows the controversy over drones, and the unintended death their attacks from above tend to leave behind.

As I write in beyondbrics:

However, the increase in arms exports has raised some concerns about weapons proliferation in the region. The US Congress has long blocked the sale of drones to Turkey, citing incidents such as the accidental killing of 40 Kurdish civilians from the southern town of Uludere by the Turkish Air Force of in December 2011.

Yet, the Turkish defense industry will keep growing fueled both by regional demand and Turkey’s desire to gain more experience as a producer of advanced technology. As part of its contracts with foreign defense firms, Turkey demands technology and know-how be transferred to its own companies that are involved in the joint production of military products.

It’s a clever system and is powering the domestic defense industry forward, as the below statistics make clear:

Major export markets for Turkey’s defense and aerospace industry

The United States $490 million in 2012, up from $342 in 2011.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) $101 million in 2012, up from $60 million in 2011.

Saudi Arabia $99 million in 2012, down from $108 million in 2011.

Bahrain $91 million in 2012, up from $38 million in 2011.

Written by Justin Vela

March 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Bosporus Blog…Kurds & Arabs and Syria’s Oil…

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Weeks of fighting gave way earlier this month to the quiet of a ceasefire agreement signed by militants in Ras Al Ayn, a mixed town of Arabs, Kurds, and Christians in northern Syria.

Beginning in November, Arab rebels seeking to oust the regime of Bashar Al Assad fought Kurdish militants affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The Arab fighters accuse the PYD of collaborating with the regime. The fight was exacerbated by localized tensions between Kurds and Arabs, who have not always gotten along well in Syria’s northern, oil-rich Jazira region. I wrote about the ceasefire for The National.

There might be as much as 3.15 billion barrels of undiscovered oil reserves in northern Syria, along with 6.9 billion barrels of discovered reserves, according to an article in The National Interest. This is not the same kind of oil wealth that can be found in Northern Iraq, for example, but it is not insignificant.

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Written by Justin Vela

February 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Rebel truce with Kurds is shaky, say experts // The National…

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Published by The National on February 22, 2013

CEYLANPINAR, TURKEY // A ceasefire agreement that ended three months of fighting between Arab rebel groups and Kurdish militants in Syria’s north-east is unlikely to hold, experts say.

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Written by Justin Vela

February 22, 2013 at 9:27 am

Bosporus Blog…Turkey and the quiet after a car bombing…

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The Turkish and Syrian opposition banners on a rooftop in Ain al-Baida, Syria. December 2011.

The flags of Turkey and the Syrian opposition atop a rooftop in Ain al-Baida, Syria. December 2011.

A perceptible quiet followed a car bombing Monday just outside Turkish territory, at the country’s Cilvegozu border crossing with Syria.

Where was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s characteristically aggressive rhetoric?

Even Erdogan occasionally knows when it’s best to keep quiet. Most of the international community is by nearly all indications fixated on a negotiated settlement to the two-year conflict in Syria. Erdogan’s own past threats towards Syria were revealed to be fairly empty. No need for more threats, artillery strikes, or turning heads in Washington or Brussels.

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Written by Justin Vela

February 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Syria’s Al Qaeda-linked militants gain hearts by providing food // The National…

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Published by The National on February 13, 2013

ISTANBUL // With little international aid reaching Syria’s besieged population, Islamist militants such as the Al Qaeda-linked group Jabhat Al Nusra are building support by providing food and other items in scant supply after two years of civil war.

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Written by Justin Vela

February 13, 2013 at 9:19 am