Syriac monk in Turkey jailed on terror charges

Opposition lawmaker Tuma Celik, from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, is the only Syriac lawmaker in the Turkish parliament. (Photo/Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 12 January 2020

Syriac monk in Turkey jailed on terror charges

  • Hundreds of Syriacs, an ancient Christian population with Aramaic as their mother tongue, have left Turkey since the 1990s to Europe

JEDDAH: A Turkish court has jailed a Syriac monk for helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’s Party (PKK).

Aho Sefer Belican led a community in the Mor Yakup Monastery in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin, the Syriacs’ ancient homeland. Two other Syriacs were also detained on Jan. 9 over allegations that the three of them provided food and water to a PKK member.

The PKK, which has waged an insurgency for independence in the country’s southeast for more than three decades, is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

David Vergili, a Syriac activist who is also a close friend of Belican’s, said the monk was a humble person who was much admired by his circle and outsiders.

“He was an ascetic for years, living in seclusion from society for religious reasons,” Vergili told Arab News. “He was also actively working for the restoration works of the monastery in a bid to further attract Turkish and foreign visitors. It is very sad and unexpected news to hear that he is imprisoned. Currently all Syriacs around the world talk only about one thing — the imprisonment of their monk.”

Opposition lawmaker Tuma Celik, from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, called on authorities to reverse the decision and said the accusation was based on a single statement in an investigation dossier that was opened two years ago. Hundreds of Syriacs, an ancient Christian population with Aramaic as their mother tongue, have left Turkey since the 1990s to Europe over security and restrictions on religious freedom. 

The 1,500-year-old Mor Yakup Monastery lies about 250 meters from the Syrian border and sits atop a rocky hill in a remote place. It was accepted onto UNESCO’s World Heritage tentative list in 2014.

Turkey’s Human Rights Association Commission Against Racism and Discrimination published a report highlighting rights violations against a Syriac nun, Verde Gokmen, who lives alone in the ancient church of St. Dimet in Mardin. She was threatened by a local mob, who said they would kill her if she did not leave the village. 

Its report also claimed that Syriac churches and monasteries were “constantly exposed to the destruction of treasure hunters.” 

Vergili said there were about 300,000 Turkish-origin Syriacs in Europe. Some Syriacs returned to Turkey in the early 2000s, but many felt unwelcome there.


Coronavirus crisis creates opportunities for venture capital entrepreneurs

Updated 1 min 39 sec ago

Coronavirus crisis creates opportunities for venture capital entrepreneurs

  • A number of sunrise sectors have emerged in response to pandemic-linked business and lifestyle challenges
  • In the GCC bloc, funding to MENA startups was up 2 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier

DUBAI: A resource crunch and the expansion of new economic sectors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic could have a major impact on the availability of venture capital (VC) for entrepreneurs in the Middle East.

Yet, even as startups in the region, like their global counterparts, face significant challenges to fundraising, a number of sunrise sectors have emerged in response to coronavirus-linked business and lifestyle challenges, according to Fady Yacoub, co-founder and managing partner at the global technology investment firm HOF Capital.

“While angel investors and family offices accounted for a record-breaking amount of the capital deployed in the region in 2019, COVID-19 has made this source of funding scarce,” Yacoub said. “This is similar to trends abroad, but it is most acutely felt in the region as family offices have historically represented a significant share of invested dollars.”

Global VC funding has plunged 20 percent since the coronavirus outbreak in December last year, data from Startup Genome shows.

Global VC funding has plunged 20 percent since the coronavirus outbreak in December last year, data from Startup Genome shows. (Supplied)

In the Gulf, funding to MENA startups was up 2 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, although the number of venture capital deals fell 22 percent, principally because of a steep drop in March, according to the regional data platform Magnitt.

Given the interruption to business schedules, VCs are doubling down on their holdings, Yacoub said.

“Most VC dollars are being spent on putting out fires at existing portfolio companies rather than on new investments.”

Winning VC funding is now a challenge, even for companies growing in double or triple digits week on week, he said.

“Rounds that were once oversubscribed have had investors walk away, forcing companies to mark down valuations and raise at lower levels per share than their previous round. We have seen this play out with quite a few firms.”

Winning VC funding is now a challenge, even for companies growing in double or triple digits week on week, Yacoub said. (AFP/File Photo)

Yacoub, an Egyptian, teamed up with compatriots Onsi Sawiris and Hisham Elhaddad to found HOF Capital in 2016. The firm is backed by more than 70 influential families and organizations, including leading brands such as Morgan Stanley, Etihad Airways and BNP Paribas.

Its investors have $350 billion of assets under management. HOF focuses its investments on nascent technologies with the potential to solve major social problems, backing entrepreneurs in areas including artificial intelligence software, next-generation finance, and genetics and computational biology.

Yacoub and his colleagues believe the downturn offers an opportunity to launch category-leading businesses. Challenging times present new problems to be solved, creating new market prospects.

Given the widespread changes to lifestyles around the world, Yacoub pinpoints four possible growth sectors:

Remote work: “Beyond tools enabling remote work, we are excited about how this trend will alter the distribution of tech talent. Clusters beyond expensive central locations will emerge in places offering better quality of life or that are closer to home for migrants, even in the MENA region.”

Electronic sports and gaming: As alternatives to live sporting events and other in-person experiences, e-sports and video games have seen player activity levels rise. Yacoub predicts exciting times ahead for the sector, particularly with localized Arabic-language products.

Lockdowns and social distancing have forced consumers to shop online, with regional platforms Noon and Souq enlarging their workforce even as companies in other sectors have laid off staff. (AFP/File Photo)

Telemedicine: Telehealth claims in the US rose by more than 4,000 percent in the year to March 2020. “A similar trend may follow in other countries, which was part of our motivation for investing in Helium Health. Its telemedicine service has seen rapid growth during the pandemic.”

E-commerce: Lockdowns and social distancing have forced consumers to shop online, with regional platforms Noon and Souq enlarging their workforce even as companies in other sectors have laid off staff. “Overall, e-commerce has grown in the GCC and Egypt at a 30 percent compound annual growth rate. Investors will be keen to find the next e-commerce winner in the region.”

With a number of factors expected to affect consumer spending in the medium term, VC funding could be affected accordingly. Yacoub said that founders should expect longer fundraising cycles as VCs look more closely at all aspects of a company’s business model and operating market.

“VC investors are generally exposed to hundreds or thousands of startups each year, so it’s important to stand out from the crowd in a good way, such as having a world-class team, a best-in-class or unique product or technology, market-leading traction, and being able to convey an interesting and compelling story to investors,” he said.

* This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.