Turkish president pays football diplomacy visit to ArmeniaSeptember 7th, 2008 - 7:06 am ICT by IANS
Ankara, Sep 7 (DPA) Turkish President Abdullah Gul wrapped up a half-day visit to historic foe Armenia Saturday night, with Turkish media reporting that both countries were pleased with the trip and described it as a good start for resumption of relations.In the Armenian capital Yerevan for less than eight hours, Gul met with his Armenian counterpart Serge Sarkisian for an hour before the two heads of state together watched Turkey defeat Armenia 2-0 in a World Cup qualifying match.
Turkish television reported that the two leaders had discussed a number of issues but no concrete decisions had been made.
Small groups of Armenian protesters greeted Gul’s arrival at Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport while others demonstrated in different parts of the city, but there were no reports of violence.
At the match itself protests against Gul were restricted to some booing of the Turkish national anthem and small groups of people holding aloft anti-Turkish placards.
Turkey and Armenia do not have any diplomatic relations and the land border between the two countries was closed by Turkey in 1993 in protest of the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Relations are also strained by Turkey’s refusal to accept as genocide the deaths of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey says that while there were massacres of ethnic Armenians, the events do not constitute genocide, and were instead the result of a civil uprising during World War I.
Gul’s visit was the first by a Turkish head of state to Armenia since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
“I hope that the match that will be played today will be a catalyst to eliminating obstacles that are preventing the two peoples, who share a common history, from getting closer, and that it will contribute to regional friendship and peace,” Gul said at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport earlier late Saturday.
Gul’s visit has split the Turkish public, with newspapers reporting that around 60 per cent were against the trip.
Opposition parties have condemned the visit, and deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) made a group decision that none of its parliamentarians would attend the match.
The visit was aimed to soften hardened attitudes in both countries, with Gul bringing up a number of issues during his one-hour meeting with Sarkisian, Turkish media reported.
Those issues included a Turkish initiative to establish a joint historical committee to look at the genocide issue, Turkey’s bid to set up a Caucasus platform to solve regional problems and Armenia’s continuing occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Gul also invited his Armenian counterpart to join him in Istanbul in October when Turkey next plays Armenia in the World Cup qualifiers, Turkish media reported.