Syrian Kurdish region increases salaries amid currency crash
BEIRUT (AP) — As Syria’s economy plummeted further, the local Kurdish-led authority controlled by U.S.-backed fighters in the country’s north said Thursday it was more than doubling the salaries of its employees to make up for the loss of the value of the Syrian pound.
The announcement came a day after Washington imposed a new wave of sanctions, ramping up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad and his inner circle with a raft of new economic and travel sanctions for human rights abuses in the country’s nine-year civil war.
The Syrian Kurdish administration — which calls itself the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria — said the 150% salary raise, starting June 1, would apply to every employee working for the local government. It gave no numbers but the local authority is believed to employee thousands of civil servants.
The authority gave no further details other than saying the move is in “the interest of the public.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said it had designated 39 Syrian individuals, including Assad, his wife and members of their extended family, military leaders and business executives. Many were already subject to U.S. sanctions, but the penalties also target non-Syrians who do business with them.
The sanctions only hit areas under Assad’s control but since the local currency is also used in the Kurdish-led autonomous region, the salary hikes appear aimed at preserving the local population’s purchasing power as the Syrian pound crumbles.
Meanwhile, in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last remaining Syrian rebel stronghold, some people have started using the Turkish Lira instead of the Syrian pound.
At the start of Syria’s conflict in March 2011, the dollar was worth 47 pounds. In recent weeks, the pound has dropped to more than 3,000 to the dollar.
The American sanctions are the result of legislation known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, named after the pseudonym of a Syrian policeman who turned over photographs of thousands of victims of torture by the Assad government.
Shortly before the announcements of the new U.S. sanctions on Wednesday, Syria devalued its currency by 44% and announced a new official exchange rate for the pound.
Syria’s troubled economy has sharply deteriorated, prices have soared and the pound had collapsed in recent weeks, partly because of fears that the sanctions would further isolate the country.