Justin Vela

Posts Tagged ‘istanbul

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

Tension in Istanbul before rallies

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Anti-government protesters in Turkey have called for a massive demonstration in the middle of Istanbul today.

The country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has planned a huge rally of his supporters in a different part of the city.

After massive clashes between police and protesters last night, which continued into the early hours of this morning, the atmosphere in Istanbul is tense. Even now there are reports of small clashes around the city.

Riot police evicted the protesters from Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square after two weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

The square is cordoned off by police this morning as Istanbul residents prepare for what comes next.

Written by Justin Vela

June 16, 2013 at 7:35 am

Posted in Bosporus Blog

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BOSPORUS BLOG: Pamuk’s museum and an Istanbul property tale…

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BOSPORUS BLOG: Pamuk’s museum and an Istanbul property tale


May 2, 2012

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, opened a museum April 28. Ensconced in Istanbul’s Cukurcuma neighbourhood, which is known for artists, expats and antique shops, the museum celebrates the past (and Pamuk); it is likely to put the already charming area more on the map.

Based on his 2008 novel of tragic love, “The Museum of Innocence”, Pamuk’s museum is located between an old wooden mosque and a hamam, or Turkish bath, in Cukurcuma, a small leafy neighbourhood about 10 minutes walk from the city’s central Taksim Square and adjacent to Cihangir, one of the city’s most sought after real estate spots.

In a press conference on April 27, Pamuk, who is as much a symbol of Turkey for his once being charged with “insulting Turkishness” after talking about the Armenian genocide as his novels, described how Istanbul had changed in the past 10-15 years. When he first bought the building to house the museum in 1999, Cukurcuma was rundown, with others saying it had a reputation for being unsafe and frequented by wandering drunks. Now, the entire city – especially central neighbourhoods like Cukurcuma, Cihangir, Galata and the port district of Karikoy – are being transformed as the city becomes “richer” and the Istanbul of Pamuk’s childhood, which he remembers in his nostalgia-rich novels, disappears. “I cannot keep up with the change,” he says, describing himself as a chronicler of Istanbul.

In place of the city that Pamuk knew are high-rises and gentrification. He describes the museum as Istanbul’s first city museum, a “modest” one, as a memento to a bygone city. Yet more than a place to remember the past, Istanbul’s present is seen in Cukurcuma in striking clarity. There are the antique shops where Pamuk claims to have bought many of the museum’s antiquities. Then there is also the rush to build and sell property in one of the most dynamic cities in the region. Anyone aiming to live or invest in even as small a neighbourhood as Cukurcuma will be unable to escape the neighbourhood intrigue and rivalries that arise in the quest for property.

A local dispute

The centre of the city has been cleaned up, but Istanbul’s development threatens to become its own worst enemy. In Cukurcuma, this was evident a few weeks ago when Coskun Kilic – a Turkish man with Pamuk’s passion and more bluster – walked out onto the roof of his building and began throwing shingles at a group of construction workers below just a few buildings up the street from The Museum of Innocence.

The workers were finishing laying the foundations for a new building next to Kilic’s. The previous building had been torn down completely. The police were called, but Kilic moved to the edge of the roof and threatened to jump unless someone from the Istanbul mayor’s office came and examined the foundations that were being laid. Yelling loudly, Kilic claimed that the foundations did not comply with local code. In the days before climbing on his room, he had repeatedly requested that someone from the city municipality come and examine the foundations in person. No one came. So, as fire-trucks arrived and a massive inflatable cushion meant to break his fall was laid at the bottom of his building, he teetered at the edge of his roof, drawing a crowd of antique dealers and passersby.

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Written by Justin Vela

May 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

New work on Turkey…innovating Turkish companies…Istanbul’s Karakoy neighborhood…

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PHOTO OUTTAKE: Istanbul's Karakoy neighborhood. September 2011.


Istanbul- Recently, I wrote about how Turks are coming back from abroad in search of jobs, bringing skills and education with them.

But what kind of work awaits them in Turkey?

The country is not known for producing much innovation or unique ideas. However, that is changing. As I describe in this article for the emerging markets magazine business new europe (bne), some companies in Turkey are focusing on the unique.

From the article:

Turkey is known more for copying ideas and products that originate in western countries than for innovation. But a young, increasingly skilled population, together with a developing venture capital industry, is changing this stereotype. 

In the past, cargo ships unloaded in Karakoy, a bustling waterfront district in central Istanbul known for its brothels that served the sailors. Even in Muslim Turkey, consecutive governments lauded Matild Manukyan, the Armenian women who owned 32 of the legal brothels. During the 1990s, she was Istanbul’s top taxpayer five years in a row; in 1992 alone, she reportedly paid $1.2m to the city – a massive amount in Turkey, where shrinking the grey economy is among the government’s top economic priorities. 

However, with Manukyan’s death in 2001, the brothels closed and Karakoy became a desolate neighbourhood of architecturally quaint, but ill-kept buildings. Until recently that is – today, a growing number of small businesses are setting up shop and the neighbourhood is fast becoming the city’s new creative hotspot.

Read the full article 







Written by Justin Vela

September 28, 2011 at 11:58 am

Istanbul Gay Pride Parade 2011…

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The annual Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul, Turkey on 19 June, 2011.

The annual Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul, Turkey on 19 June, 2011.

The annual Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul, Turkey on 19 June, 2011.


Written by Justin Vela

June 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Posted in turkey

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New article: “Istanbul could be split in two, says Turkish prime minister”

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Istanbul-I’ve got a new article out in the Guardian

“Istanbul could be split in two, says Turkish prime minister”

Here is a link

Written by Justin Vela

April 18, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Published work, turkey

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Istanbul’s Tatavla Carnival…

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Istanbul's Tatavla Carnival. March 2011.

The SETimes has published a photo essay I made of Istanbul’s Tatavla Carnival, along with words by writer Alina Lehtinen.

Istanbul’s Tatavla Carnival unites many can be view here.





Written by Justin Vela

March 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Posted in turkey

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