Turkey-Armenia soccer diplomacy brings opportunity to help thaw frozen ties
www.chinaview.cn 2008-09-07 06:07:57   Print

    ANKARA, Sept. 6 (Xinhua) -- Turkish President Abdullah Gul held talks with Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan on Saturday, while watching together the World Cup football qualifiers, which was widely seen as an opportunity to help thaw the frozen ties between the two countries.

    During the talks, the two presidents agreed to overcome decades of enmity between their two nations by lingering bitterness over disputed "massacres" against Armenians during Turkish Ottoman period, according to reports reaching here from the Armenian capital.

    President Gul arrived in Yerevan earlier in the day after his Armenian counterpart Sarkisian invited him to watch the Saturday football match, becoming the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia.

    Though Turkey recognized the state of Armenia soon after its independence, there has been no formal diplomatic relations between them currently.

    Armenia has claimed that up to 1.5 million Armenians died as a result of "massacres" during the Turkish Ottoman period between 1915 and 1923, but Turkey categorically rejects the accusation, saying that 300,000 Armenians along with many Turks died in civil strife that emerged when the Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia.

    In 1993, Ankara also closed their land border in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking ally which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

    However, Yerevan's invitation for the football match and Ankara's positive response were widely considered "a goodwill gesture" of both sides to open a new charter of their bilateral relations.

    Diplomatic sources welcomed Gul's "brave" decision to visit Armenia and said the football diplomacy would mark a major development.

    According to them, there are major issues set the agenda of the Gul-Sarkisian meeting in Yerevan. One of them is Ankara's proposal to set up a joint committee of historians to study the allegations of "genocide" at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

    Turkey insists on the establishment of such a platform that will help historians, not politicians, discuss the history, but its calls have so far not yet been reciprocated by Yerevan.

    Also on the horizon is the set-up of other committees for the normalization of relations, especially economic ties which depend heavily on the opening of the sealed border between the two countries.

    On his way to Yerevan on Saturday, Gul expected the soccer match between Turkey and Armenia to help start dialogue between the two countries, adding that the soccer match could help in eradicating problems in the bilateral relations.

    "This match is important beyond being the first match between the Turkish and Armenian national teams," Gul said, adding "if the right climate is established, everyone will benefit from this."

    Turkish media hailed that Gul's visit aimed at improving the bilateral relations between Turkey and Armenia.

    The visit is also supported by the international community.

    U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson said that Gul's visit to Yerevan is a "step forward" and the United States supported Turkish-Armenian dialog for a long time.

    EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn hailed in a statement that "I warmly welcome President Gul's decision to attend the World Cup qualifying match between Armenia and Turkey in Yerevan on Saturday."

    He said he hoped that Gul's "important first step" would be followed soon by others that lead to a full normalization of relations between the two countries, which would enhance stability in the region and prepare the ground for strengthened regional cooperation.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, on Saturday paid "tribute to the political courage of President Gul and President (Serzh) Sarkisian."

    He said in a statement that "while the region is in the midst of a serious crisis, (his visit) is a courageous and historic gesture for Turkish-Armenian relations."

    "It allows hope for progress soon in establishing normal relations between Turkey and Armenia," he said, hoping that reaching out will allow both countries to show the world that "reconciliation is possible through openness, dialogue and the respect of others." 

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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