Gul: Turkey-Armenia soccer match would help begin dialog

The Turkish President said talks with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan would include issues of bilateral relations and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Gul: Turkey-Armenia soccer match would help begin dialog

 Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Saturday that he expected the national soccer match between Turkey and Armenia to help begin dialog between the two countries.

     Speaking to reporters on the way to Yerevan, Gul stressed that today's national match could help in eradicating problems in relations between Turkey and Armenia.

     "If the right climate is established, everyone will benefit from this," Gul said.

     "Turkey is a big country and the most important one in the region. Turkey is a country that contributes to the solution of regional problems," Gul added.

He also expressed hope that a landmark soccer match between Turkey and Armenia would aid a "rapprochement" of neighbouring nations at odds for nearly 100 years.

Speaking to reporters at Ankara's Esenboga International Airport, Abdullah Gul said that he would travel to Yerevan, Armenia to watch tonight's soccer match between Turkey and Armenia.

"This match is important beyond being the first match between the Turkish and Armenian national teams," he told a news conference. "It has a significance that will present important opportunities."

Stressing that his visit to Yerevan took place at an important period, Gul said that Sargsian and he would have an opportunity to discuss the developments in the region.

"As you know, we developed an initiative titled 'Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform' to facilitate permanent stability and peace in the Caucasus. We held discussions with the prospective members of this platform (a platform that includes three Caucasian countries, the Russian Federation and Turkey), except with Armenia. During my visit to Yerevan, I will have a chance to exchange viewpoints on this platform with the Armenian President Sargsian," Gul said.

"The topics of developments in the Caucasus, Upper Karabagh dispute, and bilateral relations will be discussed in Yerevan today," Gul said.

"I wish that the match to be played today will help the lifting of obstacles that prohibit closeness between the two peoples that share common history and will contribute to regional friendship and peace," Gul said.

"With these feelings and thoughts, I wish our national team success," Gul added.

Asked about the possible score of tonight's game, Gul said that he would not comment on the match itself except wishing for the Turkish side to win.

Ankara and Yerevan have no diplomatic ties Armenians.

"I hope today's match will contribute to removing barriers to the rapprochement of two peoples with a common history, and contribute to regional peace and stability," said Gul.

Turkey has never opened an embassy in Armenia and in 1993 Ankara 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.

But Russia's decision last month to send its forces into Georgia, an ex-Soviet state which borders both Armenia and Turkey, has convinced many that it is time for Ankara and Yerevan to put their differences aside.

Soccer Symbolysm

"We saw a month ago how unresolved issues in the Caucasus threaten peace in the region," Gul said. "Making this trip at such a time makes it especially important."

The Turkish President said talks with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan would include issues of bilateral relations and Nagorno-Karabakh.

In Yerevan, police said "strengthened security measures" would be in place, with streets around the stadium and the presidential office closed to traffic.

The nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party says it will protest Gul's visit, demanding Turkey recognise the World War One killings as genocide. Activists will light candles at a memorial to the killings that lies on a hillside above the stadium.

Armenia says 1.5 million ethnic Armenians died at the hands of Ottoman Turks. Turkey denies there was genocide and says the deaths were the result of inter-ethnic conflict that also killed many Muslim Turks.

If they can move beyond the soccer symbolism to re-establish normal relations, that could have huge significance for Turkey's role as a regional power, for energy flows from the Caspian Sea and for Western influence in the South Caucasus.

landlocked Armenia, a Soviet republic until 1991, could also derive enormous benefits from the opening of the frontier with its large neighbour and the restoration of a key rail link.

Western-backed pipelines shipping oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to Turkey's Mediterranean coast bypass Armenia and bend north instead to go through Georgia.

With that route looking vulnerable after the Russian intervention, Armenia could be an attractive alternative route.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Eylül 2008, 18:00