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  Football affects relations between Turkey and Armenia

Auðra Radzevièiûtë
2009 08 10

On 23 April of this year the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia announced in Switzerland that the countries approved the plan of „road guidelines“ aimed at normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan. It is also possible that border between Turkey and Armenia could be opened by 14 October, when teams of both countries would meet in the World Cup-qualifying football match in the Turkish city Bursa.

Turkey and Armenia do not maintain diplomatic relations, and border between them is closed since 1993 (Ankara supports Azerbaijan in the Nagorno Karabachos conflict).  However, two years ago Turkey and Armenia started secret negotiations (under mediation of Switzerland and active involvement of the United States) resulting in the plan of „road map“.

Football match in Yerevan on 6 September  2008 could be referred to as a really historical event. The match was attended by the Turkish president A.Gul who was invited by the Armenian president S.Sargisian. The Armenians lost the game, but it seems that the „football diplomacy“ went off well.

In January of this year S.Sargisian and the Turkish Prime Minister R.T.Erdogan met in Dallas.  Shortly Turkey invited S.Sargisian to the counter match and he accepted the invitation, but mentioned that it would be better for him to come to Bursa by land roads, i.e. upon opening the Armenian and Turkish border.

It is difficult to say on whether the border between the two countries would be opened by October. Yerevan says that in order to normalize relations with Turkey, it does not require Ankara to recognize the fact of genocide. Armenia expects the same from Turkey: not to relate the issue of relationship with Nagorno Karabachos.

Last year R.Safrastian, director of Armenia’s Institute of Oriental Studies, said that Turkey is more inclined to improve relations.  According to him, Turkey suggested (several times) to establish a joint working group of historians aimed at investigating events of the beginning of 20th century and providing answers to questions relevant to both countries.  However, according to R.Safrastian, Yerevan does not need such a working group, since the Armenians usually ask questions „why“ and „how“, whereas the Turkish keep asking on the fact of the Armenian genocide. The genocide recognized by the majority of states.

Both, Turkey and Armenia have their own reasons for improving relations. According to the Armenian political scientist A. Iskandarian, „this is predetermined by several reasons. First of all Turkey seeks integration in Europe(…). Secondly, Turkey pursues democratization processes“.  The war in Iraq plays an important role as well: Turkey has withdrawn from the U.S.policy, moreover, the Kurdistan State was established in North Iraq.  Therefore, Turkey seeks to be more active in its frontiers and normalize relations with neighbors. Besides, Turkey seeks to „play“ more actively in Caucasus: this has become possible after the Russian-Georgian war, however, impossible without Armenia.

Normal relations with Turkey are necessary also for Armenia: since 1993 Russia and Iran have become major economic partners of Yerevan, but shadow trade with Turkey comprises even one fourth of the Armenian exchange of goods. Upon establishment of diplomatic relations and opening borders, economic co-operation would become more active. Besides, Armenia is bored being „the Russian satellite“.

All the above arguments demonstrate that both countries have matured for the improvement of relations, however, Azerbaijanis against that. Its ministry of foreign affairs stated that it would take measures if the issue of Nagorno Karabachos would be excluded from the agenda of the Turkish-Armenian negotiations. One of the above measures could be suspension of supply of energy resources from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

According to portal Panorama.am, „Turkey was trapped into its own pitfall“. According to the political scientist L.Melik– Shachnazarian, Turkey would not do anything to affect the interests of Baku. In its turn the Turkish newspaper „Zaman“ writes that on 21 July A.Davidoglu, the foreign minister of Turkey, said that „positive changes“ are possible in the relations between Turkey and Armenia, but negotiations with Azerbaijan are also necessary.

The above „positive changes“ are expected before the above football match which would again demonstrate that sports have ceased to be merely sports.

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