ISTANBUL (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s State Migration Agency claimed on Friday that the Turkish government has been grossly inflating the number of Armenian nationals living and working in Turkey.
Turkish leaders have for years spoken of between 50,000 and 70,000 illegal migrants from Armenia. They have used the figures to attack Yerevan in the international arena and emphasize Turkey’s importance for Armenia’s economic development.
But Gagik Yeganian, head of the State Migration Agency, said the real figure is at least ten times lower. “If there were that many workers, then there would have been a corresponding negative [migration] balance,” he told a news conference. “We can speak about roughly 5,200 migrants that are citizens of Armenia and work in Turkey.”
To substantiate his claim, Yeganian cited government data on individual travel between the two neighboring states lacking an open border and diplomatic relations. It shows that some 293,000 Armenians traveled to Turkey and that 288,000 of them returned home in the past eight years. It indicates a virtually zero net outflow of migrants in 2008.
According to Yeganian, travel between the two countries has quadrupled since 2000 and does not seem to have been seriously affected by this year’s economic crisis. The official was confident that it will not jump further if the Turkish-Armenian border is reopened, dismissing concerns about a possible influx of Turks into Armenia.
“If the border is opened, that won’t mean that they come here in the millions,” said Yeganian. “They can here now if they want to. Nothing prevents them from doing that.”