Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to deport Armenian nationals living and working in his country in retaliation for resolutions passed by U.S. and Swedish lawmakers defining World War One-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
Asked during an interview with the BBC Turkish service in London on Tuesday, cited by Western news agencies, what he thought about the resolutions, 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. 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."
Armenian leaders condemned the threats on Wednesday. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said they evoke memories of the mass deportations of Armenians ordered by the Ottoman rulers in 1915. “I think that shows that the issue of genocide recognition is still very timely and it will find a radical solution only if Turkey itself recognizes the genocide,” he said during his government’s question-and-answer session in the Armenian parliament.
Sarkisian said Ankara and Yerevan should address the problem of illegal Armenian workers, mainly concentrated in Istanbul, through “diplomatic channels.” “And that means there must be diplomatic relations between the two neighboring countries without any preconditions,” he said. “The statements by Turkey’s prime minister do not contribute to the improvement of relations between the two states and peoples.”
For his part, Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian, said Erdogan’s threats should not be taken seriously. “These are merely political statements that can never become a reality,” he said.
Turkish leaders have at various times spoken of between 30,000 and 100,000 citizens of Armenia allegedly residing in their country in an effort to embarrass Yerevan in the international arena and showcase Ankara’s declared good will towards Armenians.
A senior Armenian government official accused the Turks late last year of grossly inflating their number, saying that it does not exceed 5,200. An Istanbul-born Armenian researcher who studied the issue last year came up with a similar estimate.
According to Reuters, Erdogan also accused the Armenian Diaspora of being behind the Armenian genocide resolutions in foreign parliaments, and called on Armenia and other foreign governments to avoid being swayed by their lobbying. He said: "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."
Hranush Hakobian, the Armenian minister for Diaspora affairs, shrugged off the claim. “This is yet another statement which are used to hearing,” she told RFE/RL. “It is baseless and meaningless. The Armenian Diaspora and the Republic of Armenia will continue to campaign for genocide recognition.”