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Turkey plays down expulsion threat
Turkish PM says he has no immediate plans to expel 100,000 illegal Armenian workers.
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2010 20:46 GMT
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin perished in a systematic campaign during World War I [EPA]

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, has said he had no immediate plans to expel illegal Armenian workers, after his threat to do so sparked a barrage of criticism at home and abroad.

Erdogan, however, urged Western countries to stop branding the massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as "genocide,"  describibng such moves as attempts to "tarnish" Turkey's honour and "meddle" in its ties with Armenia.

The Turkish media and rights groups accused Erdogan of treating illegal Armenians as a pawn in Ankara's protests after his threat earlier this week to deport thousands of impoverished Armenians working illegally in Turkey.

But Erdogan said his remarks on Saturday were aimed "at drawing the world's
attention to our tolerant approach towards those people" and did not mean that "we will take such a step immediately".

Troubled relations

On Tuesday, Erdogan threatened to expel illegal Armenian workers if foreign parliaments continued to pass such resolutions, prompting harsh domestic criticism that his remarks damaged already troubled peace efforts with Armenia.

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Erdogan put the number of illegal Armenians in Turkey at 100,000. Researchers, however, say that the Turkish authorities tend to inflate the figures to put pressure on Armenia, estimating the number between 10,000 to 20,000.

Referring to about 100,000 Armenians working illegally in Turkey, Erdogan said on Tuesday: "Only 70,000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000.

"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."

Forced to leave their impoverished country to earn a living, thousands of Armenians, mostly women, have settled in Turkey, mainly in Istanbul.

Many came after an earthquake in their homeland in 1988 and work illegally, mainly in manual jobs or as nannies and cleaning ladies, sending remittances home.

'Negative impact'

Erdogan blamed the genocide resolutions on the influential Armenian diaspora in the US and Western Europe.

"We are extending our hand, but if our counterparts clench their hand into a fist, there will be nothing we can do," he said.

"Those people make shows with those resolutions ... And they harm the Armenian people as well ... And things become deadlocked.

"Those actions [on genocide resolutions] unfortunately have a negative impact on our sincere attitudes."

Following Swiss-brokered talks to end decades of enmity, Turkey and Armenia signed an accord in October to establish diplomatic ties and open their border.

The process, however, has hit snags, with both countries accusing each other of lacking true commitment to the deal.

US measure

The climate was further inflamed this month when the US House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a non-binding resolution branding the massacres of Armenians a genocide, with the Swedish parliament following suit last week.

Turkey recalled its ambassadors from both countries, warning that bilateral ties and reconciliation efforts with Armenia would suffer.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin perished in a systematic extermination campaign during World War I as the Ottoman Empire fell apart.

Turkey counters that between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many Turks, were killed in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian forces.

Parliaments in several other countries have also recognised the mass killings as genocide in the past.

Source:
Agencies
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