PM Erdoğan's Armenian hostages
HDN | 3/18/2010 12:00:00 AM | Semih Idiz
Angered at the recent Armenian 'genocide' resolutions, Turkey's prime minister says he is prepared to deport Armenians living illegally in Turkey.
Angered at the Armenian “genocide” resolutions passed by a U.S. House of Representatives committee and the Swedish parliament, Turkey’s prime minister says he is prepared to deport 100,000 Armenians living illegally in Turkey if necessary.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the following remark in an interview with the BBC’s Turkish Service during a visit to London a few days ago:
“Look, there are 170,000 Armenians in my country; 70,000 are my citizens. But we are not making a fuss over the remaining 100,000. So what will I do tomorrow? If necessary, I am going to tell these 100,000, ‘come on, back to your country.’ I will do this. Why? Because they are not my citizens. There is nothing that forces me to keep them in my country.”
Erdoğan was referring to people who, due to the hardships in their own country, have somehow made their way to Turkey and are working here in order to be able to send their meager earnings back home to sustain their families or loved ones.
This is not something that is alien to Turks, given that millions have had to travel to Western countries over the past decades, leaving home and hearth for the same reasons, many of them entering those countries illegally as well.
Pressed on by his interviewer, Erdoğan made a feeble attempt later to backtrack by saying that he “was not referring to something that would be happening today or tomorrow, but only if necessary.”
So innocent Armenians are again potential victims of ugly politicking. But Turkey is not the “hell-hole” in terms of human values that some Europeans and Armenian activists like to make it out to be. Erdoğan’s remarks were condemned by a significant number of Turkish politicians, columnists and other opinion makers as “inhumane,” “unjust” and “a violation of human rights.”
Some columnists, such as Can Dundar of daily Milliyet, referred to a new “tehcir,” the term Turks use for the deportation of Armenians in 1915. Dundar indicated that Erdoğan’s remarks amount to saying that “100,000 Armenians are hostages, and if European parliaments don’t stop pressuring Turkey over the 1915 events, we will make them suffer.”
Ergun Babahan of daily Star went the whole way and wrote, “If Hitler had been Turkish, we would also be denying the Holocaust today.” He added, in so many words, that that the spirit of Enver Paşa and his “Ittihadists” was alive and kicking in today’s Turkey.
Erdoğan’s remarks are unconscionable, of course, and represent a slur to Turkey’s reputation. They are also seriously out of tune with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s position on this issue.
Davutoğlu was recently reported as telling the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP’s, abrasive and Armenian-baiting deputy Canan Aritman that deporting illegal Armenians would be counterproductive, and leave Turkey facing international charges of “racism.” Naturally, one wonders how Davutoğlu feels after Erdoğan’s remarks.
This brings us to the opposition’s position. As far as the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is concerned, the reaction was predictable. Senior party members challenged Erdoğan, with apparent glee, to carry out his threat. “Why employ so many illegal Armenians when there are unemployed Turks?” was the attitude of Oktay Vural, a key name in the party.
As for the supposedly “social democratic” main opposition CHP, it raised eyebrows again. Senior party members such as Aritman and Onur Oymen did not miss the chance to insist it was the CHP that had first suggested the Armenians should be deported (as if this is something that merits a medal).
That was true, of course. The suggestion to deport all illegal Armenians from Turkey came initially from another senior CHP personality and a former ambassador to Washington, namely Şükrü Elekdağ.
It must also be mentioned here that Oymen had insulted and said hurtful words in the recent past concerning Kurds also, when referring to the Dersim massacres of 1937-38 perpetrated by Turkish forces against rebellious Kurds.
It seems, however, that the CHP leadership is trying to dissociate itself this time from the attitude of people such as Oymen, Elekdağ and Aritman – who once baited President Abdullah Gül by claiming he had Armenian blood in him that he was keeping secret.
CHP spokesman Mustafa Ozyurek said in a statement that Erdoğan’s suggestion of deporting the Armenians was “wrong and discriminatory.” Much to the annoyance, no doubt, of the trio mentioned above, CHP leader Deniz Baykal also came out against Erdoğan’s suggestion.
To use people who came to work in Turkey in this way was “a violation of human rights,” Baykal said. Undoubtedly referring to members of his own party, the CHP chief added that “individual opposition deputies may have their own views, which are not binding in the end,” but that it was “totally unacceptable” for the prime minister to come out with such a proposition.
Whether Baykal really believes his own words, or simply did not want to end up in the position of having to support a suggestion by Erdoğan – his political enemy – is another question. Whatever the case, the CHP has to work overtime to not only prove its social democratic credentials, but also its humanistic ones.
Finally, it must be said that Erdoğan’s figure of 100,000 illegal Armenians living and working in Turkey has not been corroborated by the Ministry of Labor or the Interior Ministry. The figures mentioned by Turkish and Armenian sources vary from 5,000 to 60,000.
But whatever the figure may be, there is not one reported incident of trouble between Armenians working in Turkey and Turks. To the contrary, all the reports in the Turkish press about these people have been highly positive, indicating how Turks and Armenians can work, live and love (yes, there are even marriages taking place) together.
But it makes no difference if the number of illegal Armenians is only 100. To turn innocent people, who have little to do with politics and are merely trying to eke out a living in difficult circumstances, into hostages for political considerations is morally reprehensible.
Even members of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, have apparently understood this, and are now claiming, as Huseyin Celik – one of the party’s deputy leaders – did, that the prime minister “was only expressing Turkey’s good intentions” in saying what he said.
Another leading AKP member, Suat Kınıklıoğlu, tried to repair the damage by arguing unconvincingly in a written statement that Erdoğan was “merely trying to show how tolerant Turkey was toward Armenians in Turkey,”
Those who are prepared to buy this are welcome to do so. But it is clear from the reactions at home that the AKP can not fool everyone.