NEW YORK (Eurasianet) — A far-right Turkish politician wants his government to expel tens of thousands of Armenian nationals residing in Turkey in retaliation against France for declaring a remembrance day for victims of the World War I-era genocide of Armenians.
President Emmanuel Macron said this week France would mark April 24 as a “national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide.” Turkey’s government, which denies the killings amounted to a genocide, has vigorously condemned the decision.
Researchers estimate between 10,000 and 30,000 Armenian nationals are in Turkey, many of whom have overstayed tourist visas after finding work there. They often face greater scrutiny when foreign governments pressure Turkey to formally recognize the genocide.
“There are 100,000 Armenians here who came from Armenia and are illegally filling their stomachs. I’m saying we should expel them. Why are we letting them stay? While they lobby against Turkey, we continue to feed them,” Mustafa Destici, who leads the small Great Unity Party (BBP), said at a campaign rally on February 7.
Destici’s hardline party only receives a few hundred thousand votes in Turkish elections but retains an outsized influence at a time of heightened nationalism in Turkey. In June, the BBP joined President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s electoral alliance, along with a larger right-wing group, in parliamentary and presidential polls, earning one seat in parliament.
Erdogan has in the past suggested kicking out undocumented Armenian nationals in response to moves by other nations to recognize the genocide. In 2015, he said Turkey could “deport” them if it wished, evoking the Ottoman Empire’s deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenians to the Syrian desert during World War I.
Destici’s remarks were unlikely to spur any concrete action, but illustrate rising nationalist sentiment during a severe economic downturn in Turkey, which also hosts four million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, as well as hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and beyond.