In 2009 Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) conducted a study to help determine the state of Armenian irregular migrants in Turkey. The study was part of the EPF’s Armenia-Turkey cross-border program supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United States Agency for International Development. The study included a review of existing research, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions held with key players in Turkey, and it was conducted from spring to early autumn of 2009. Starting from November 2009, the findings of the research have been presented to audiences both in Armenia and Turkey, which has received considerable media coverage in both countries. One of the main findings of the research concerns the situation with the children of Armenian irregular migrants who are not able to attend schools in Turkey. As media outlets used the numerical and qualitative information provided by EPF’s research in direct or non-direct way, many of them kept the situation with children central in their reporting.
The Turkish authorities are trying to get over the awkward situation it found itself in after Turkish Premier Recept Erdogan’s notorious statement.
Turkish Vice-Premier Bülent Arınç made a statement on the education of the illegal Armenian immigrants’ children. Premier Erdogan’s meeting with one of the influential members of the Armenian community Bedros Şirinoğlu scheduled for March 26 should be considered in this context.
Bedros Şirinoğlu also admitted his responsibility for Erdogan’s citing the wrong figures – 100,000 illegal Armenian immigrants in Turkey. In fact, 70,000 of the Armenians are Turkish citizens, and only 30,000 are illegal immigrants.
In his interview with Hurriyet, Archbishop Aram Atesyan, the Chairman of the Religious Council, pointed out that at his meeting with Vice-Premier Arınç ten days before he had informed him of the problem. The Turkish Vice-Premier promised his help. Atesyan pointed out his regret over Erdogan’s statement in London, but the Turkish Premier explained later he had been misunderstood. The Archbishop pointed out that illegal Armenian immigrants’ children in the streets are not of any benefit to Turkey. Therefore, they must be allowed to attend schools.
Vice-Premier Arınç pointed out that only Turkish citizens have the right to attend schools owned by national minorities residing in Turkey. The Turkish Government, however, believes that Christian children living in Turkey for various reasons must receive education. “I consider the problem from a human point of view. An ‘illegal Armenian immigrant in Turkey’ is not a problem for us. We allowed national minorities to open their schools, and the children of people that arrived here can attend them. I do not see any problem. I discussed the issue at the Government’s sitting. Premier Erdogan welcomed the idea and issued a relevant instruction to the Minister of Education. I think progress will be made. The term ‘illegal Armenian children’ is not an end in itself for us. Turkey will not sustain any damage if these children attend our schools,” Arınç said.