For a few dollars less: Pro-lira campaign on track with free meals

Published 04.12.2016 22:39
Updated 04.12.2016 23:11
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call to the public on Friday to convert dollars into lira received a broad response from the public who flocked to exchange bureaus across the country.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call to the public on Friday to convert dollars into lira received a broad response from the public who flocked to exchange bureaus across the country.

The fight to save the lira plunging against the dollar will get a public boost as people rush to currency exchange offices to convert dollars to lira, with businesses offering free meals to haircuts to anyone documenting the switch

The dollar may still have the upper hand in its fight against the Turkish lira but the public has devised ingenious ways to encourage more people to convert the U.S. currency into Turkish lira or gold. The campaign, underway since last week's rapid plunge of the currency, got a major boost from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who urged everyone to exchange the hard cash for gold. The call by the charismatic leader, credited with ending the July 15 coup attempt by mobilizing the public to resist against the coup troops, got an overwhelming response with people everywhere flocking to currency exchange offices and jewelry stores to exchange their dollars.

To further drive the exchanges, small businesses all across the country have come up with incentives in the form of free gifts for anyone converting a certain amount of dollars, be it a free meal in a restaurant or a free haircut by barbers.

Take Doğan Arıkan for instance. Selling fish in landlocked capital Ankara, Arıkan says you only need to show receipt of your conversion of $100 to receive a kilogram of anchovies [for free]."

"This is a small contribution to foil the plot against our country," he says, referring to the name of the campaign, "Sell Foreign Currency, Foil the Plot."

Doğan Arıkan offers 1 kilo of anchovies in return for documenting conversion of $100.

"Foiling the plot" here refers to what Turkey perceived as plots by other countries and their local collaborators to weaken the Turkish lira. President Erdoğan said on Friday that Turkey would "foil the tricks of some forces" to drive Turkey into a financial crisis as he urged citizens to reach for their mattress savings to convert any foreign currency they had stashed away into Turkish lira and/or gold, while he also urged banks to cut interest rates. Erdoğan stated that volatility due to the rising value of foreign currency would not have a negative impact on the economy, which is "now threefold richer than it was 14 years ago," when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) first came to power.

Turkish lira floated at around 3.5 against the dollar before markets closed on Friday and was steady on that rate shortly after Erdoğan's speech that helped a decrease.

Erdoğan's call was also heeded by the Turkish stock exchange BIST Istanbul which decided to convert all of its cash assets into Turkish lira.

Still, it may not have the same impact on the customers of three local restaurants in the central city of Konya, who get a mouthwatering offer in return for their anti-dollar fight. Anyone exchanging $500 is entitled to a dish of "etli ekmek," the city's world-famous dish of minced meat served on a thin bread resembling pizza, for free.

"We do what we can as small businesses," Hikmet Çetiner, owner of one of the restaurants told Anadolu Agency.

Similarly, a restaurant in Gaziantep, branded as the "culinary capital" of the southeast for its rich cuisine of spicy dishes, serves free meals to anyone converting $200 into Turkish lira. The restaurant's owner Mustafa Çolak says the dollar's rapid rise also threatens their business, urging others to support the president's call. Çolak told reporters that he already served free meals to almost 15 people who showed their dollar-lira conversion receipt.

If you drop by Erkan Engin's barber shop in the eastern city of Elazığ after converting U.S. dollars, you can get a free haircut.

"We give a free trim to anyone exchanging $300," Engin told Ihlas news agency, calling the people to do what they did on July 15, the night of the coup. Turkey has seen an unprecedented public rise against the coup troops on that night that concluded with the defeat of the coup troops at the cost of deaths of some 248 people.

"We are all aboard the same boat and it is not all about money. You can earn it again in the future and replace it but this is our country, our children's futures are at stake here," Engin told reporters.

It is not known whether people like Engin would ultimately help Turkey scrap dealing in dollars at all but Turkey will likely push more for creating a new system for its economy that does not solely rely on dollars. Economy pundits highlighting the domination of Western currencies and markets over the developing countries say the dollar can be used as a tool of manipulation to rein in other countries' growing economies that depend on the currency both domestically and to become a key player in the international community of developed economies.

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