ISTANBUL, Turkey (A.W.)—Turkey is set to amend a law next month that aims to rid the country of illegal workers. Many view this move as retaliation against Armenians in light of the new bill criminalizing Armenian Genocide denial in France.
Varying estimates in Turkey put the number of Armenian citizens in the country from 10,000 to 100,000. Many of them are women, and are employed in low-skill jobs.
“This country, which Mark Levene called ‘the genocide zone,’ throughout its history has made it a habit to deport, expel, and relocate innocent people as retaliation and punishment for things they did not do, or have no connection to at all,” Turkish human rights advocate Ayse Gunaysu told Armenian Weekly Editor Khatchig Mouradian.
The amendment to Law No. 5683 on Residence and Travel of Foreign Subjects will be ratified on Feb. 1. In the past, people from the region migrated to Turkey on tourist visas, finding employment and becoming illegal workers. After a few months, they would leave and reenter the country on a new tourist visa (a process called “visa runs”). The workers hailed mostly from countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Ukraine, Indonesia, and Armenia. The new system will force migrants to stay out of the country for 90 days between two entries. Authorities are set to strictly enforce the new law, penalizing visa overstays and runs.
However, the amendment allows for employers who wish to keep their workers to pay a salary of TL 1,330 ($744), and an insurance premium, reported Bianet.org. The minimum wage in Turkey is TL 701 ($392), and it is unlikely that an unskilled worker will make significantly more than that.
Back in March 2010, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at retaliation against Armenian migrant workers if genocide resolutions were passed in foreign parliaments. In a discussion on genocide resolutions in the U.S. and Sweden, he told the BBC’s Turkish Service that of the 170,000 Armenians living in Turkey, only 70,000 are Turkish citizens. “We are turning a blind eye to the remaining 100,000… Tomorrow, I may tell these 100,000 to go back to their country, if it becomes necessary.”
It appears the French bill was the last straw for Erdogan’s government. On Jan. 25, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters that “Turkey’s response to the adoption of the bill had long been decided.”
The president of the Migrants’ Association for Social Cooperation and Culture, Sefika Gurbuz, called the law a “threat to Armenians,” reported Bianet.
Meanwhile, Gunaysu characterized Turkey’s response a “black comedy.”
“The ongoing blackmail and threats against France is itself proof of guilt as well as a manifestation of lack of dignity and self-respect, despite—of course—pathetic demonstrations of national pride,” said Gunaysu.
Gunaysu, who is a member of the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, pointed out the country’s history of deporting innocents peoples. In 1915, the Young Turk regime began its systemic deportations of Armenians as a main tool to rid the eastern provinces of a native population. “They still tell lies that it was because of treacherous Armenians, whereas hundreds of thousands of Armenians were not engaged in any political activity whatsoever,” said Gunaysu.
Then it was the turn of Turkey’s Kurdish and Greek populations. “The republican period is full of Kurdish deportations, especially in 1938 during and after the Dersim Massacres,” she said. “In 1964, the Turkish government expelled 40,000 Anatolian Greeks, forbidding them to bring along any personal belongings over 20 kg. and $20, as a retaliation against Greece in connection with the Cyprus issue—a deportation that is still terribly painful in the memories of these people.”
Gunaysu added, “The mindset from which this policy of retaliation originates is racist, inhuman, and brutal. The rulers of Turkey have once more proven that [the government] still follows the same path as that of their predecessors back in 1915 and all along the history of the Republic.”