Associated Press
In this July 23, 2008 file photo, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, second left, is seen with
Turkish officials as he visits Ani, the ruined and now uninhabited capital of a medieval
Armenian kingdom
. (AP)

Soccer Game to Bring Turkish President to Armenia in ‘Historic Visit’

September 04, 2008 03:45 PM
by Emily Coakley
Armenia and Turkey are taking a step toward rebuilding their relationship with the help of a soccer game. Sports has often been used to soften international tensions.

World Cup Qualifier and Olive Branch

When Armenia and Turkey’s national teams face off Saturday in a World Cup qualifying match, the game will be about more than sports. In the crowd, the two country’s leaders are expected to be watching together.

President Abdullah Gül’s visit to Armenia is a major step for the two countries, which don’t have diplomatic ties, reports France 24. Armenia’s president, Serzh Sargsyan, invited Gül earlier this year.

Turkey severed diplomatic relations more than a decade ago to protest Armenia’s control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Armenia fought with Azerbaijan, a Turkish ally, for control of the region. Armenia also wants Turkey to recognize that the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in World War I at the hands of Ottoman Turks were genocide, reports France 24. Turkey denies those accusations strongly.

One group, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, is already planning to protest the visit, according to the Turkish Daily News.

“If we were in power, we would never have made such an invitation to Gül,” said Giro Manoyan, a member of the group, in a Turkish Daily News article. “Yes, we wish to establish good relations with our neighbors, including Turkey. The problem is that Turkey does not want to establish ties with Armenia. The genocide issue is as an obstacle according to Turkey, however this was not on the agenda during the first years of the establishment of Armenia.”

Opinion & Analysis: Grounds for opposition

In a roundup of columnist’s reactions, the paper Today’s Zaman concluded that almost everyone in the Turkish press welcomed Gül’s visit, except “extremist newspapers and opposition parties openly criticized the visit, saying it would harm Turkey’s image.”

A columnist for the Turkish Daily News addressed concerns that Gül’s visit would hurt other diplomatic ties.

“A ridiculous and invalid objection raised against the development is the misperception that if Turkey opens a new page with Armenia this could be betrayal of Azerbaijan because Turkey and Azerbaijan is ‘one-nation-two-states,’” wrote Cengiz Candar. “As Azerbaijani presidents have met their Armenian counterparts, to bring a ban on Turkey doesn’t make sense and there couldn’t be any justification to that.”

According to Candar, Sargsyan, in his invitation, referred to the ‘pingpong diplomacy’ that helped China and the United States repair their relationship.

Related Topics: ‘Pingpong diplomacy’

Sporting events have brought other nations closer together. In June, the United States and China celebrated the 37th anniversary of what was known as ‘pingpong diplomacy.’

The original event involved China inviting a few American athletes and journalists to visit the country and play pingpong. No American had been in the country since communists took over in 1949. The visit helped pave the way for President Richard Nixon’s visit the next year.

Earlier this year, on a trip to Japan, China’s president Hu Jintao played pingpong with a Japanese teen, though that wasn’t the purpose of the trip. The visit was significant, as it was the first time in 10 years a Chinese president had traveled to Japan. Historically, the two countries haven’t been allies.

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