ANKARA: Armenian workers may boost Turkey’s hand in foreign policy

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
May 10 2009

Armenian workers may boost Turkey’s hand in foreign policy

Illegal immigrants (rear) wait at a police station in
Ä°stanbul. Analysts suggest an estimated 40,000 to 100,000
Armenian expatriates live in Turkey.

`Un-hate a Turk Today’ said the banner raised on April 24, 1969, a day
Armenians commemorate mass suffering endured during World War I, in
front of the St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in Manhattan’s Murray Hill
neighborhood.

The unconventional perfor-mance by Armenian-American artist Kardash
Onnig symbolizes his long journey in promoting dialogue and
understanding between Turks and Armenians. Onnig, whose parents were
born and raised here in Turkey, told Sunday’s Zaman that he has been
struggling to make the case for the reopening of the border between
Turkey and Armenia. On a recent trip that took him all over the
country, he said, `I came back very proud of my heritage that had
given so much to Turkish culture.’

Ironically though, he became the target of hate from his own. His visa
has been revoked by the Armenian Embassy in Washington because of the
book `Savage Chic: A Fool’s Chronicle of the Caucasus,’ which he
published after returning from a six-month artist-in-residency stay in
Karabakh.

Like Onnig, there is a sizable number of Armenians coming to Turkey,
and their number is growing along with a positive perception of Turks
and Turkey. Armenians, who feel the economic crisis taking its toll
back home, are moving to Turkey in the hope of landing on a job. They
obtain non-immigrant tourist visas on the border and simply overstay
their visas after being hired as babysitters, cleaners, factory
workers or seasonal farm workers, albeit illegally.

Up to 100,000 workers from Armenia

Nobody knows the exact number of Armenian expatriates who live in
Turkey and send money home. But various figures estimate the numbers
to be between 40,000 on conservative side, all the way up to
100,000. With the possible opening of the border between Turkey and
Armenia, their numbers are expected to increase.

Armenian expats recently became a subject of controversy in Turkey
after some politicians seized the opportunity to capitalize on the
growing discontent about illegal workers numbering more than a
million. Against the backdrop of possible normalization of relations
with Armenia, some have raised the possibility of sending Armenian
expats back to their home country in an attempt to derail the dialogue
process.

`I’m not opposed to Armenian workers flocking to Turkey to look for a
job,’ says Güven Sak, professor of economics at the Ankara-based
Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges University of
Economics and Technology (TOBB ETÃ`). `It indicates Turkey has
become a center of attraction for neighboring countries, and this
creates a lot of opportunities for us,’ he told Sunday’s Zaman. He
stressed, however, that guest workers should be employed legally. `The
government needs to overhaul the immigration system and review border
security along the guidelines of European Union norms,’ he added.

Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, professor of international relations at Gazi
University, agrees with Sak in that a possible backlash against
Armenian workers might backfire on Turkey and harm the interests of
the country. Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Erol underlined the
importance of Armenian workers living and earning their livelihood in
Turkey and said, `This is soft power for Turkey.’ He also urged more
cooperation between civic organizations and youth and health
institutions in the two countries. `Treating them as `others’ does not
serve any purpose and it will, in all likelihood, push Armenians away
from Turkey,’ he noted.

Workers’ remittances important for Armenia

Keeping Armenian workers well fed and well paid here in Turkey will
surely strengthen Turkey’s role at a time when more Armenian migrant
laborers are returning from abroad in big numbers. The Ministry of
Economy in Yerevan estimates the country receives more than $2.5
billion a year in remittances, which make up about a fifth of
Armenia’s gross domestic product (GDP). With less money available to
send home because of the distressed job market abroad, the revenue of
the government fell 25 percent this year. Returning expats are also
adding to the huge army of the unemployed in a nation of 3 million.

The local currency has lost a third of its value against the dollar,
and the government has turned to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and
the World Bank for a loan amounting to over $1 billion. It is also
soliciting a helping hand from Russia, the biggest trading partner and
investor in the country. Russian companies control much of Armenia’s
infrastructure, including railways, gas pipelines, a nuclear power
plant and mobile telecoms.

Although the border has remained closed since 1993, as a sign of
solidarity with Azerbaijan after Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh,
Turkey lifted restrictions on the admission of Armenians into the
country in January 2002. Armenian visitors can either use airlines
that operate regularly between Yerevan-Ä°stanbul and
Yerevan-Trabzon, or they can use bus services routed through Georgia
ending in cities across the Black Sea coast in eastern Turkey.

The current visa regime allows Armenian citizens to enter the country
on 30-day non-resident visas. If any alien is found to be working
illegally, they are reported to the Ministry of Labor and Social
Security. The alien is later deported to their home country and fined
TL 844 ($540). He or she is also barred from re-entry to Turkey for
five years. The employer also gets hit with a TL 4,227 ($2700).

Å?ükrü ElekdaÄ?, an opposition party deputy
from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), was very critical of the
government at the time and suggested the deportation of 70,000
Armenian workers in stages. Asked by Sunday’s Zaman whether he still
holds the same view today, ElekdaÄ? dodged the question and
declined to comment on the issue, saying the question is based on
ill-faith.

PM: Turkey will not deport Armenians

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip ErdoÄ?an, dismissed
flatly, however, any suggestion that Armenian workers should be
deported in order to pressure the Yerevan government. Putting the
figure at around 40,000 in a speech he delivered in January,
ErdoÄ?an said: `They [Armenian workers] fled the country, they
could not sustain themselves in their homeland, and we opened our
doors. We could deport them, but we are not doing so.’ Stressing that
Turkey had welcomed people many times in the past, the prime minister
underlined that Turkey is continuing to present the same exemplary
attitude.

In fact, government agencies have rarely used their power to deport
Armenians so far. In response to a parliamentary question brought by
ultranationalist party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), deputy
Hakan CoÅ?kun, who reiterated claims raised by ElekdaÄ?
earlier, Interior Minister BeÅ?ir Atalay said eight Armenians
were deported in 2007 and only one as of March 2008. In comparison,
more than 50,000 Armenians passed through the Turkish border
checkpoint in 2007, making the number of deportees seem almost
insignificant.

Even though there is an undeclared official policy to keep Armenian
workers relatively comfortable here in Turkey, there is not much the
government can do if and when it decides to crack down on illegal
immigration. `The fines and penalties are high, but the numbers of
official inspectors who are tasked with finding illegal employees in
workplaces are very few,’ says Kadir DikbaÅ?, a columnist and
expert on economic policy in Ä°stanbul. He said he understands
the reasoning behind the government policy but says the situation
creates unfair competition in employment policies. `There is also the
risk of not protecting these workers’ rights as they simply do not
exist in official records,’ he added.

10 May 2009, Sunday
ABDULLAH BOZKURT ANKARA

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS