EuFoA’s Secretary General comments on Turkish-Armenian thaw
Soccer Diplomacy May Speed Turkish-Armenian Thaw
By Ben Holland
Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) — Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan may not mind if Turkey’s soccer team thrashes Armenia this week. He has his sights set on a higher goal — ending a century-old dispute between the two neighbors. Sargsyan is due to attend the Oct. 14 World Cup qualifier in Bursa, northwest Turkey, the first visit by an Armenian leader in a decade, as a guest of his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul. A year ago, Gul broke new ground by watching the last match between the sides in Armenia in a move dubbed as “soccer diplomacy” by the press.
The visit comes four days after the two countries agreed a road-map for establishing diplomatic ties, which Turkey hopes will assuage European Union opponents of Turkish membership. Armenia hopes it will raise living standards. Politicians from both sides face opposition though, as Armenians demand that Turkey recognize the massacre of their compatriots in 1915 as genocide. “These are age-old problems that go back to the creation of the Turkish nation,” said Cengiz Aktar, an international relations expert at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. “There are no quick fixes, but historically it’s a landmark.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped mediate a last-minute hitch at the road-map signing ceremony in Zurich on Oct. 10. The accord now needs to be ratified by both parliaments. It foresees the border opening between the two countries within two months of the accord taking effect. Turkey closed it in 1993 to protest against Armenia’s occupation of territory in Azerbaijan, a key Turkish ally and energy supplier.
Next Step ‘Difficult’
Turkey’s parliament will debate the agreement on Oct. 21, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said today. Ratification is “going to be difficult but that’s the next step,” Clinton told reporters after the signing. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it will be “easier” for the Turkish assembly to approve the agreement if Armenia takes steps to resolve its territorial dispute with Azerbaijan, Aksam newspaper reported today.
Turkey and Armenia pledged to set up a joint commission of historians to investigate the World War I massacres, recognized by France and several other countries as genocide. Armenia says as many as 1.5 million were systematically killed. Turkey cites a lower figure and says the deaths were the result of civil strife in which many Turks were also killed.
Sargsyan has spent most of this month touring the world to convince diaspora Armenians that a deal with Turkey is in Armenia’s interests. He was greeted by protests in Los Angeles, Beirut and Paris as ethnic Armenians opposed the plan. For Armenia, where the average income is about $1,500, the restoration of ties would open the door to trade with Turkey, a country of 72 million with an economy of $600 billion.
“Gaining an open border to a significant market will help,” said Michael Kambeck, secretary general of the Brussels- based European Friends of Armenia, which promotes ties with the EU. “And both countries can start dealing with their past in a better way than they can do now.” Turkey can point to the Armenian accord to bolster its EU application and also improve ties with the U.S., said Wolfango Piccoli, a London-based analyst at the Eurasia Group, which measures political risk in emerging markets. Successive U.S. presidents including Barack Obama have pledged to recognize the Armenian genocide, straining relations with NATO member Turkey, though they haven’t fulfilled the promises.
The opening of the border may be delayed as Turkey seeks progress in talks over Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan, said Piccoli. Obama has backed the current negotiations and told the Turkish parliament during a visit in April that “an open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence.” Azerbaijan supplies Turkey with gas and sells its oil to Europe via a pipeline through Turkey. Europe and the U.S. want former Soviet states in central Asia such as Azerbaijan to sell oil and gas to the West independently of Russia. That means transporting it to Turkey through the Caucasus, which has been riven by disputes such as the one between Turkey and Armenia. London-based BP Plc opened a $3 billion oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast in 2005. The $11- billion Nabucco project to carry natural gas via Turkey to Europe depends partly on Azeri supplies of the fuel.
Neither Turkey nor Armenia can qualify for the World Cup after Turkey lost 2-0 to Belgium on Oct. 10. Armenia lost 2-1 to Spain on the same day and is bottom of the group.
The sport has served a diplomatic purpose in the past. Iranian and U.S. players exchanged flowers before a 1998 World Cup match, symbolizing a political thaw under then-President Mohammad Khatami. Co-hosting the 2002 tournament helped ease historic tensions between Japan and South Korea. In 1969, though, Honduras and El Salvador went to war days after a World Cup qualifier in which Salvadoran authorities burned the Honduran flag during pre-match ceremonies and ran a used dishcloth up the flagpole instead.
Armenia leader to visit Turkey for ‘football diplomacy’
Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has proclaimed intention to visit Turkey on Wednesday to attend a football match. He would be the first Armenian leader to visit Turkey in decades.”If nothing extraordinary happens in the next two days, I will go and support my beloved team,” Sarkisian told reporters at the Yerevan airport on Monday on his way to Moscow. “I do not have any serious reason not to accept this invitation,” he said.
Sarkisian’s statements come just after Turkey and Armenia signed protocols on Saturday to establish diplomatic ties, to open their shared border, which has been closed since 1993, and to take the first steps toward reconciliation after decades of hostility. The protocols must be approved by the two countries’ parliament and full normalization may still be thwarted by Armenia’s dispute with neighbor Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey, over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is set to inform the parliament about the protocols next week.
Politicians from both sides also face opposition, as Armenians demand that Turkey recognize the killing of their compatriots in 1915 as “genocide.” Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were systematically killed between 1915 and 1917 when the Ottoman Empire, predecessor of modern Turkey, was collapsing. Turkey rejects the “genocide” label and argues that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife as Christian Armenians took up arms against the Ottoman rulers when they allied with invading Russian troops. “These are age-old problems that go back to the creation of the Turkish state,” Cengiz Aktar, an international relations expert at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul. “There are no quick fixes, but historically it’s a landmark.”
PM’s remarks dismissed:
Azerbaijan has condemned the Turkish-Armenian protocols. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested Sunday that opening the border would depend on Armenia ending support for Karabakh separatists, something Yerevan is unlikely to agree to.
Sarkisian dismissed the comments by Erdoğan and voiced confidence that normalization would go forward. “These statements are directed at an Azerbaijani audience. Otherwise I don’t understand them. If the Turks do not want to ratify the protocols, why did they sign them?” Sarkisian said. “Today, the ball is in Turkey’s court. We have enough patience to see how events will develop. We will move forward without wavering. If the Turks ratify the protocols, we will continue the process,” he said. Sarkisian spent most of the month visiting diaspora Armenians attempting to convince them the deal is in the country’s best interest. The president was greeted by protests in Los Angeles, Beirut and Paris as ethnic Armenians opposed the plan.
For Armenia, a country where the average income is about $1,500, the restoration of diplomatic ties would open the door to trade with Turkey, a country with a population of 72 million and a gross domestic product of $600 billion.
“Gaining an open border to a significant market will help,” said Michael Kambeck, secretary-general of the Brussels-based European Friends of Armenia, which promotes ties with the EU. “And both countries can start dealing with their past in a better way than they can do now.”
Turkey can point to the Armenian protocols to bolster its EU application and also improve ties with the United States, said Wolfango Piccoli, a London-based analyst at the Eurasia Group, which measures political risk in emerging markets.
Turkey and Armenia are due to play a World Cup qualifier football match in the Turkish city of Bursa on Wednesday. Sarkisian’s visit to the match would not be the first instance of “football diplomacy” between the two countries. Last year, Turkish President Abdullah Gül made a historic visit to Armenia to watch a match between the two countries’ national football teams, a trip that was seen as a key step in the reconciliation process.
Subscribe to our news roundup to get news on your email.