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Eyeing Political Gains, Kurds and Assyrians in Turkey Aim to Mend Old Wounds

By , January 27, 2015 4:30 am

Gabriel Aktas, a Syriac priest, poses in Kirklar, a Syriac church in Mardin, south-eastern Turkey, Nov. 17, 2014 (Getty Images/Ozan Kose).Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan sent a “Letter to the Syriac People” from his prison cell last week, calling on Syriacs [Assyrians] and Kurds to join forces in building a joint nation in Mesopotamia. “It is the foremost duty and responsibility of the Kurdish people to help overcome the tragic history of this ancient Mesopotamian people and to enable its resurrection,” Ocalan wrote of the Christian minority that has been largely driven out of its homeland in southeastern Anatolia over the last century. The PKK leader was underscoring a minority policy adopted by the Kurdish nationalist movement in recent years, in which it has sought to embrace the Syriacs and present itself as a multi-ethnic democratic force.

At the political level, this policy has worked to some extent, with several Syriacs elected to public office on the ticket of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Turkey’s largest Kurdish party, which has links with the PKK. But at the grass-roots level, it is a different story. The alliance has led to bitter divisions within the Syriac community, where distrust of the Kurds runs deep. The Kurdish movement, on the other hand, has not been able to translate its outreach policy into neighborly relations on the ground, with violent attacks on Christians, land grabs and intimidation still very much the order of the day in the Tur Abdin region, the historic homeland of the Syriacs.

A century ago, Syriacs numbered around 200,000 in Tur Abdin, which straddles the Turkish provinces of Mardin and Sirnak. Of these, around 100,000 were slaughtered in the massacres of Anatolian Christians during World War I by Ottoman troops and Kurdish irregulars. The remaining Syriacs hung on for another few decades, before fleeing persecution, poverty and the war between Kurdish rebels and Turkish forces later in the century. Today, 200,000 to 300,000 Syriacs live in Western Europe, while only 2,000 to 3,000 remain in Tur Abdin.

“The erasure of the Assyrian-Syriac-Chaldean people is a great loss for the culture of the Middle East,” Ocalan wrote in his letter carried by the pro-PKK Firat news agency. “It is of the highest importance that the Assyrian-Syriac-Chaldean people, who have been dispersed all over the world, participate in the process of laying the foundations of a common homeland and democratic nation and that, accordingly, they should come back together.”

At its political top, the Kurdish movement has gone to some lengths to implement this policy in recent years. BDP leaders like Ahmet Türk, the mayor of Mardin, have publicly apologized for the Kurdish part in the 1915 massacres of Christians. Syriac candidates have been sought by the BDP to run on its tickets, and Syriacs have in this way attained public offices for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic. Syriac councilors now sit on the district councils of both Midyat and Idil, two towns in the heartland of the Tur Abdin, while the nearby city of Mardin has a Syriac woman as a co-mayor alongside Ahmet Türk, the Kurdish tribal chief who holds the office. Thanks to the Kurdish party, Syriacs are even represented in Turkey’s national parliament in Ankara for the first time since the foundation of the republic, with Syriac deputy Erol Dora elected to the Grand National Assembly on the BDP ticket in 2011.

This policy has earned the Kurdish movement the dedicated support of some Syriac activists, such as Jakob Gabriel, who has served in Mardin’s provincial council for the BDP. “The Kurdish freedom struggle is a struggle for all peoples of this land,” Gabriel said in an interview with Al-Monitor. “As Syriacs, we are working with them because they are our only hope.” But the alliance has also led to divisions within the Syriac community, where memories of the role played by Kurds in the 1915 massacres and in squeezing out the Syriacs in recent decades are vivid. “I want nothing to do with those who collaborate with the Kurds,” an elderly Syriac from Enhil village told Al-Monitor in a hushed voice and with a shudder, a comment echoed by other Syriacs who did not want to be named for fear of retribution by Kurds. “We see this policy as a tactical measure” on the part of the Kurds, an official of a Syriac diaspora organization in Germany told al-Monitor, again on condition of anonymity.

“If a Muslim gives you an apple, put it in a pocket with a hole so that it may fall out,” runs a Syriac proverb describing the deep distrust felt for the Kurds that is frequently quoted by locals. Februniye Akyol, the co-mayor of Mardin, acknowledges Syriac concerns about cooperating with the BDP. “Yes, Kurds persecuted us Christians, and the trauma is deep-rooted, but if we keep looking backward, we can never go forward,” Akyol told Al-Monitor. “The Kurdish party has enabled me to fight for my people and its rights, and that is what I am going to do.”

Neither has the Kurdish leadership been able to persuade its grassroots in the towns and villages of Sirnak and Mardin followers to embrace the Syriacs, especially those returning from the diaspora to reclaim their lands from Kurds who have occupied them during their absence. The courts of the region are overwhelmed with cases of Syriac land being held by armed Kurds, not all of whom are “village guards” outside the PKK’s writ. While the BDP has attempted to mediate disputes where Syriac land is held by its own followers, as in the case of the Syriac monastery Mor Augin, even top-level BDP leaders have been unable to persuade the tribes to back down, as BDP deputy Erol Dora acknowledged in an interview with Al-Monitor.

In the town of Idil, crowds of PKK followers regularly attack the home of a Syriac businessman who has been trying to recover the lands left when his father, the last Christian mayor of the town, was assassinated in 1994. After more than a dozen recent attacks with firebombs and rocks thrown through the windows of the apartment block, which also houses the Syriac Association of Idil, most tenants have moved out, the owner, Robert Tutus, told Al-Monitor. Eyewitnesses interviewed in Idil said the attacks are perpetrated from the midst of PKK demonstrations marching by on the street, with groups of attackers dodging out of the crowd and melting back into it. “If the PKK does not want this, why are they not stopping them?” Tutus asked.

The disconnect between the Kurdish leadership and its followers on this issue is noted by Syriac activists like Yuhanna Aktas, the chairman of the Syriac Unity Association in Midyat. “We believe in the sincerity of Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK,” Aktas told Al-Monitor. “But they encounter resistance in the Kurdish people, whose grassroots have not yet achieved the change of mentality.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Brazilian Real Heads to Weekly Gains Despite Daily Losses

By , January 23, 2015 6:37 am

20 and 50 real billsThe Brazilian real fell today but was still heading to a weekly gain. The currency rallied after the nation’s central bank bolstered its interest rates, making the currency more attractive for investors, particularly carry traders.

Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, and this makes it appealing for traders. The high interest rates mean that carry traders should be particularly interested in the Brazilian market due to its high level of return. Carry trade is a practice of borrowing money in countries with low borrowing costs and investing them in higher-yielding economies.

USD/BRL rose from 2.5737 to 2.5955 as of 13:26 GMT today but was still up 1.7 percent over the week.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Brazilian Real, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Dollar Gains to Highest Since 2003 vs. Euro

By , January 22, 2015 2:17 pm

Packs of US 100-dollar billsThe US dollar climbed to the highest level since 2003 against the euro today after the European Central Bank made a move, announcing an expansion of its asset purchase program. The currency also gained against other major counterparts.

While initially it looked like the gains of US currency against the euro might be limited, the rally accelerated and the greenback jumped as much as 2.1 percent against the currency of the eurozone and touched the strongest rate since November 2003. The dollar also rallied to the highest since July 2013 versus the Great Britain pound. The sterling was soft as poor Britain’s economic data reinforced the view that the Bank of England will not raise interest rates anytime soon.

Turning to the news from the United States, US economic data was mixed. The housing report showed an increase of housing starts but a drop of building permits. Unemployment claims fell last week but were still above the forecast level. Nevertheless, the impact of the ECB announcement allowed the dollar to ignore any negative factor that might have impacted it.

EUR/USD sank from 1.1609 to 1.1376 as of 18:41 GMT today. GBP/USD dropped from 1.5140 to 1.5030. USD/JPY advanced from 117.96 to 118.23 after falling to 117.25 earlier during the trading session.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the US Dollar, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Swissie Backs Off After Huge Rally, Retains Most of Gains

By , January 19, 2015 10:06 am

The Swiss franc fell today, declining for the second consecutive session, as the market digests last week’s shocking decision of the Swiss National Bank to drop the cap on the currency. The currency is still far above the levels at which it was trading before the decision.

The SNB made a huge surprise for traders last week, dropping its cap of 1.20 francs per euro. Nobody saw this coming as even on the day before the announcement central bank’s officials were promising to maintain the ceiling. Needless to say, the news rocked the Forex market, and the franc is still seeking its “fair” value in the new environment.

USD/CHF rose from 0.8609 to 0.8712 as of 14:45 GMT today. EUR/CHF advanced from 0.9941 to 1.0118.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Swiss Franc, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Japanese Yen Mostly Lower After Yesterday’s Gains

By , January 16, 2015 5:54 am

Yesterday, the Japanese yen saw gains as jitters sent Forex traders to safe havens, and as reports came in about a reduction in trade deficit. Today, though, many majors have recovered against the yen, and the currency is mostly lower.

Yen got a boost against many of its major counterparts yesterday, thanks in large part to market concerns. US economic data didn’t come out as well as expected, and that provided the yen gains against the greenback. Additionally, falling oil prices have resulted in a small trade deficit for the yen, and that was a bit of help as well. However, even Japanese economic data isn’t coming in quite as positive as expected, and that is taking its toll today.

Today, yen is once against trading mostly lower against its major counterparts. Yesterday’s gains are fading other currencies once again take the upper hand. Even the euro is gaining against the yen right now, even though earlier the euro had been one of the few major currencies still losing ground.

At 11:31 GMT USD/JPY is higher, moving up to 116.7030 from the open at 116.3100. EUR/JPY is also higher, gaining to 135.1960 from the open at 135.1560. GBP/JPY is gaining, moving up to 177.4790 from the open at 176.4990.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Japanese Yen, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Brazilian Real Gains on Optimism About New Economic Team

By , January 7, 2015 9:39 am

20 and 50 real billsThe Brazilian real gained today on hopes that the new economic team appointed by President Dilma Rousseff will succeed in revitalizing economic growth in the South American country.

Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, a member of the team, said that he may increase tax revenue to help in rebalancing the budget. The market show great confidence in the new team, improving the outlook for Brazil’s economy and bolstering the nation’s currency. Previously, the real was falling on concerns that the government will not be able to overcome obstacles to economic growth.

USD/BRL went down from 2.6982 to 2.6898 as of 15:44 GMT today.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Brazilian Real, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Yuan Gains on Hopes for Economic Stimulus

By , January 6, 2015 11:53 am

Yuan note reverseThe Chinese yuan gained today amid speculations that China’s government is going to bolster the nation’s economy. Economic data from the Asian country was also helpful to the currency.

According to rumors, China is going to spend as much as 7 trillion yuans on infrastructure projects. Investors hope that increasing spending will revitalize economic growth that is losing momentum currently. The HSBC China Services PMI rose from 53.0 in November to 53.4 in December.

USD/CNY fell from 6.2205 to 6.2130 as of 18:01 GMT today, touching the daily low of 6.1869 during the trading session.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Chinese Yuan, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Earlier News About the Chinese Yuan:

Forex News

Australian Dollar Gains on Trade Balance & China’s Data

By , January 5, 2015 7:34 pm

Various Australian dollar notesThe Australian dollar gained today as the nation’s trade balance came out better than analysts have predicted. Macroeconomic data from China was helpful too.

The Australian trade balance demonstrated a deficit of A$ 925 million in November. While it was an increase from the October’s A$ 877 million, it was still smaller than the predicted value of A$ 1,590 million. The HSBC Services Purchasing Managers’ Index rose from 53.0 in November to 53.4 in December.

Despite the current rally, there are still plenty of factors that may drive the Aussie back into decline. Concerns about the political situation in Greece, the drop of commodity prices and prospects for monetary tightening in the United States — all these are detrimental to the Australian currency’s performance.

AUD/USD advanced from 0.8081 to 0.8123 and AUD/JPY gained from 96.68 to 96.88 as of 2:26 GMT today. EUR/AUD dropped from 1.4759 to 1.4706.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Australian Dollar, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Pound Gains vs. Dollar, Retreats vs. Yen

By , December 30, 2014 5:45 am

Stack of UK coins on GB pound billsThe Great Britain pound gained today against the US dollar on the back of relatively positive housing data. Gains were limited though, and the currency dropped versus the Japanese yen.

The Nationwide House Price Index rose 0.2 percent in December. While it was not a bad result, the increase was smaller than the November’s 0.3 percent. HPI growth slowed on an annual basis as well. Despite the small gain of the pound on the dollar, analysts do not expect the rally to persist as the US currency has enough reasons to outperform the sterling.

GBP/USD rose from 1.5515 to 1.5539 as of 12:07 GMT today. GBP/JPY sank from 187.20 to 185.57.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Great Britain Pound, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Earlier News About the Great Britain Pound:

Forex News

Yen Gains as Traders Seek Safe Investment Options

By , December 30, 2014 5:44 am

Rolled 1,000-yen banknoteThe Japanese yen rallied today, rising against all of its major peers, as the risk-negative market sentiment spurred traders to seek safer assets. The currency demonstrated the biggest gain in two weeks versus the US dollar.

The market sentiment has already been averse to risk due to the drop of oil prices. Yet the situation in Europe (and Greece in particular) increased demand for safer investment options even further. As a result, the yen rallied, undoubtedly making the Japanese government unhappy as it wants to see the currency weaker, not stronger.

USD/JPY dropped from 120.66 to 119.54 (1 percent) as of 12:18 GMT today. EUR/JPY tumbled from 146.62 to 145.25.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Japanese Yen, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Earlier News About the Japanese Yen:

Forex News