Turkish PM threatens to expel Armenian workers
LONDON - Daily News with wires | 3/17/2010 12:00:00 AM |
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken a harsh position against undocumented Armenian workers in Turkey, threatening to expel thousands amid tensions over allegations that Armenians were victims of “genocide” during the last days of the Ottoman Empire.
Resolutions passed recently in the United States and Sweden to brand the World War I killings as “genocide” undermine peace efforts with Armenia, Erdoğan said during his visit to London, according to excerpts from an interview with the BBC Turkish service published on the BBC Web site late Tuesday.
However, Suat Kınıklıoğlu, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, on Wednesday tried to clarify Erdoğan’s remarks in a written statement, saying: “What our prime minister referred to was the tolerance affording to Armenian citizens who are working illegally in Turkey.”
Kınıkoğlu, who is also head of Turkey-U.S. Interparliamentary Friendship Caucus, noted that this has been part of Turkish policy since 2005 to warm relations with Armenians. Turkey will continue its efforts to stabilize the South Caucasus, he said, adding that at a recent NATO meeint in Yerevan he saw that Armenian elites were still not ready for normalization, but that the Armenian people were looking forward for normalizing ties and opening borders.
“Hope, they will catch this historic opportunity and do the right thing,” he said.
[HH] ‘Negative impact’
Referring to about 100,000 undocumented Armenians working in Turkey that Ankara has so far tolerated, Erdoğan said: “So what will I do tomorrow? If necessary, I will tell them 'come on, back to your country'... I'm not obliged to keep them in my country. Those actions [on genocide resolutions] unfortunately have a negative impact on our sincere attitudes,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
Forced to leave their impoverished country to earn a living, thousands of Armenians, mostly women, have settled in Istanbul, working mainly in manual jobs or as nannies and cleaning ladies.
Erdoğan also blamed the “genocide” resolutions on the influential Armenian diaspora in the United States 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.
During the interview with BBC, the prime minister also touched on the Iran’s controversial nuclear program and said there was no definite report showing that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons. "These are all rumors. Because, nothing like that has happened. So, it is meaningless to discuss it," he said.
Noting he had personally warned Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad several times and told him that Turkey did not want any nuclear weapons in its region, Erdoğan said the Iranian leader said that his country had no intention to produce nuclear weapons.
In his reply to a question on whether Turkey's EU membership process has lost velocity, Erdoğan said the process did not slow down, according to a report by Anatolia news agency.
Expressing Turkey's determination for the opening of the remaining chapters in its EU process, he said, "Turkey will continue to walk toward the EU in a determined way as long as the union does not close its doors to Turkey."