Justin Vela

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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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How to Interview Fethullah Gülen

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Turkey is in the spotlight (again) with TIME magazine’s choices for its 2013 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen and the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan were both listed under the leaders section.

Öcalan and Gülen are two enigmas. One lives in self-imposed exile in the United States. The other is imprisoned on an island off Istanbul. Both are deeply influential, but their views are only rarely expressed to the public.

No Turkish politician was listed, though they were in past years.

TIME magazine’s yearly list is a good indicator of what is “in.” That Gülen and Öcalan are on it this year will set off a storm of controversy in Turkey. Some local journalists, who are increasingly forced to self-censor, might enjoy the chance offered by TIME to discuss the sensitive topics that come along with both these men. While some Turks will voice outrage at the selection of men considered by some to be an “ayatollah” and a “terrorist”, nearly all will feel some self-satisfaction and pride that their country is so pivotal that two of its sons made the list.

Fethullah Gülen: How to get an interview

Gülen, in particular, is fascinating to me. And, yes, the fascination comes from more than being chastised by one of the Gülen Movement’s newspaper as an “emotional” and “biased” reporter. A weeks ago, I pressed a senior member of the movement on how I could interview Gülen. The man laughed. If you want to interview Gülen you should read everything that he has said and everything that has already been written about him, the man said. Then submit a list of original questions that have not already been answered.

It sounds so simple. And I am working on it. However, Gülen has said a lot and there’s been a lot written about him. So I could use some help. If you have an original question you’d like me to ask Gülen in the near future do let me know. Of course, it will be nice to have his thoughts on being chosen one of TIME’s 100 most influential people for 2013. But there’s a lot more to ask a man whose teachings have created an international movement.

Written by Justin Vela

April 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Bitcoin Mania

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It is all about Bitcoin these days. All over the web. The above video is a good explainer of Bitcoin, which I admit not fully understanding. I also admit, even though I am  a big supporter of alternative economies/living, I won’t be going online to purchase Bitcoins anytime soon. Still a really cool idea.

Written by Justin Vela

April 18, 2013 at 7:12 am

Posted in Bosporus Blog, video

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A response to Turkey: How Durable is Gülen Movement?

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Today, a member of the Gülen Movement e-mailed regarding my recent article “Turkey: How Durable is Gülen Movement?”
He gave permission for me to post his response, asking to remain anonymous because his words are not an official position of the movement.

And I saw your piece on the Movement.

I understand that you are trying to give a balanced view but I am kind of having hard time understanding if it is a necessary to reduce something down to weak and shaky although it is doing far better than that. Anyway it’s your discretion and I respect that.
 I have some points about Mr. Yavuz’s arguments;

“The movement dies with the leader….” Yes if it the leader is more of a carismatic figure rather than someone creating the paradigm and institutionalising it…and the followers rationalising and internalizing the perspective as a way of life. 

The level of institutionalisation is far more avanced than those Nur movements. The consensus was limited to “what is right” in that movement back in time. But now it is more like there is a consensus about “what is right, how to promote it and with which tools” and this consensus is working almost perfectly around the globe. An organisation that big, you can’t run on only the carisma of the opinion leader. It already became a way of life. Comparing it to political parties is a huge mistake for an academic figure like Mr. Yavuz. These are two distinct and uncomparable entities.

 The relations with Ak Party;

 Ak party convinces the participants and symphatizers of the movement on some issues and can’t do that on some other. The analysis that movement is too close to Ak party is just picturing the times the gov’t has convincing arguments. The question here is “Why does it have to be an either/or question?” The people in the movement support the gov’t on some issues and don’t on some others. Why can’t it be that clear?

And about Mr. Gulen getting skewed news; he is not a naive person, nothing needs to be said on that. It is possible of course but it is an extreme possibility. Of course he is not running any of the Hizmet institutions but so far these institiutions have not gone astray from the perspective of Hizmet. If he sees a deviation from the principles of the movement he kindly reminds those principles and that would be received with great sensitivity.

Written by Justin Vela

April 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Posted in turkey

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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