Turkey threatens to deport 100,000 Armenians

‘I don't have to keep them in my country,’ Turkish premier says

updated 6:00 a.m. PT, Wed., March. 17, 2010

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

Earlier this month, Turkey withdrew its ambassadors to Washington and Stockholm after a U.S. congressional committee and the Swedish parliament passed the non-binding resolutions.

It also warned that the resolutions could affect progress in fragile reconciliation process between Turkey and Armenia.

Asked during an interview with the BBC Turkish service in London on Tuesday what he thought about the resolutions, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said: "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."

He added: "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."

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.

'Important decision' for Armenia
Erdogan accused the Armenian diaspora of being behind the 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. Any country which cares for Armenia, namely the U.S., France and Russia, should primarily help Armenia to free itself from the influence of the diaspora."

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

The issue of the Armenian massacres is deeply sensitive in Turkey, which accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks but vehemently denies that up to 1.5 million died and that it amounted to genocide — a term employed by many Western historians and some foreign parliaments.

Muslim Turkey and Christian Armenia agreed last year to establish diplomatic ties and open their border if their parliaments approved peace accords, but the votes have not taken place and the governments have accused each other of trying to rewrite the texts.

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