1239) Turkey's Armenian population is growing

Armenians in Turkey
Nov 16th 2006
The Economist print edition
IN THE grimy alleys of Istanbul's Kumkapi district the air is thick with a rarely heard language: Armenian. Marina Martossian, who has been working illegally for five months as a cleaner, is typical of 40,000 compatriots there. She is delighted with her $300 monthly pay and calls her Turkish bosses “the kindest people in the world”

That's a big change. Bitter debate over the fate of the Ottoman Armenians—did the mass killings of 1915 constitute genocide?—has fuelled decades of enmity. A survey by TESEV, a think-tank in Istanbul, showed some 70% of Armenians had a negative view of the Turks: a tenth called them “enemies”; a similar chunk “barbarians”. Among Turks, 34% thought poorly of Armenians (17%, bizarrely, believed the Armenians were Jews).

Turkey's Armenian minority dwindled to 80,000. In 1993 Turkey sealed the border with Armenia, after it seized the province of Nagorno-Karabakh from the Turks' Azeri cousins. The issue poisons other ties too: this week Turkey broke off military relations with France, after parliament there voted to criminalise denial of the genocide.

Now Turkish officials go easy on the Armenians—in contrast to other illegal workers. They also welcome changing attitudes among diaspora Armenians, especially among those who actually visit Turkey. In an e-mail widely circulated among émigrés this month, Kardash Onnig, an Armenian-American artist, who recently returned from an arts festival in the eastern province of Kars, says he “never imagined that an Armenian artist singing Armenian songs could elicit a response of such brotherly humanity. I was in a sea of Turks dancing to Armenian tunes. What joy! My eyes were full of tears.”

See the full email from Kardash Onnig


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