Turkey threatens to chase out Armenian immigrants

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Turkey's prime minister has warned that he might deport up to 100,000 Armenians living in Turkey without citizenship, after resolutions were passed by US and Swedish lawmakers defining First World War-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.

"There are currently 170, 000 Armenians living in our country. Only 70, 000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100, 000," said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday (16 March) during an interview with the BBC Turkish service in London.

"If necessary, I may have to tell these 100, 000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don't have to keep them in my country," he added.

The majority of Armenians in Turkey live and work in Istanbul. Many came after an earthquake in their homeland in 1988 and work illegally and send remittances home.

However, according to the Armenian Migration Agency, Turkey's official figures are quite different from Erdogan's statement, Armenian website Panorama reported. "The numbers of the recent years say nothing about the figures stated by Erdogan," the head of the Armenian agency Gagik Yeganyan said. He mentioned no more than 5,000 Armenians who came to Turkey in the period 2000-2009.

Erdogan blames diaspora

Erdogan accused the Armenian diaspora of being behind resolutions in foreign parliaments, and called on Armenia and other foreign governments to avoid being swayed by their lobbying.

"Armenia has an important decision to make. It should free itself from its attachment to the diaspora," Erdogan said. "Any country which cares for Armenia, namely the US, France and Russia, should primarily help Armenia to free itself from the influence of the diaspora," he added.

Erdogan's comments threaten to strain Turkish-Armenian ties, which are traumatised by the deportation and killing of Armenians during the chaotic end of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago.

According to the PanArmenian.net news website, Turkish Minister for European Affairs Egemen Bagis stressed that his country wants good neighbourly relations with Armenia. "There are an estimated 100, 000 illegal Armenian immigrants in our country, who work here providing care for the elderly and children," he said. "For me, this shows that there is no hate between our people," he added.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Hundreds of thousands of Christian Armenians died during forced removals in 1915 by the Ottoman army from what is now Eastern Turkey, but Turkey denies that the move constituted genocide.

The countries attitude vis-à-vis the bloodshed in 1915 is one of the defining aspects of modern Turkish diplomacy, with any use of the term 'genocide' either within Turkey or abroad swiftly denounced by Ankara.

Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was killed in 2007 after openly saying that the events of 1915 were genocide.

Earlier this month, Turkey withdrew its ambassadors to Washington and Stockholm after a US congressional committee and the Swedish parliament passed the non-binding resolutions (EURACTIV 12/03/10).

It also warned that the resolutions could affect progress in fragile reconciliation process between Turkey and Armenia (EURACTIV 01/09/10).

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