Turkey warns it will expel 100,000 to Armenia
Published 18/03/2010 | 05:00
TURKEY has threatened to expel 100,000 Armenians from the country in response to the US branding the World War I killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as "genocide".
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said the position of the immigrants, many of whom have lived there as refugees for a generation, was being reviewed.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians died in massacres as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated during the war.
Turkey concedes that tens of thousands died in ethnic fighting, but vehemently disputes accusations that the killings were systematically planned.
Tensions with Armenia have risen recently as a well-organised international campaign has persuaded the US congress and Swedish parliament to adopt resolutions condemning the killings as "genocide".
An Armenian genocide remembrance day bill has been put before the British parliament, and Mr Erdogan has warned UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown that relations would suffer if it passes.
Turkish law makes discussion of genocide an offence punishable by imprisonment.
"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," said Mr Erdogan. "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 suggestion has proved controversial in Turkey, with Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, rejecting any calls to drive out Armenians.
Mr Davutoglu said the move would put Turkey in the "hot seat" as it attempted to fend off charges of ingrained racial prejudice.
He said: "All newspapers will publish photos of deported Armenians and it will be called a nationalism."
Turkey has been dismayed by the campaign as it had been attempting to establish normal diplomatic relations with the former Soviet state.
Mr Erdogan said its neighbour should distance itself from the overseas community leading the 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 US, France and Russia, should primarily help Armenia to free itself from the influence of the diaspora."
But there was uproar in Armenia over the suggestion of deportations, with one member of parliament condemning Mr Erdogan's remarks as blackmail. (© Daily Telegraph, London)