Armenia's President to Attend Match in Turkey

By: Avet Demourian - AP Writer
By: Avet Demourian - AP Writer

Armenia's president said Monday that he will go to Turkey this week for a football World Cup qualifier between the two national teams, returning a gesture by Turkey's president in what has become known as soccer diplomacy.

President Serge Sarkisian's announcement followed the signing of an agreement between Armenia and Turkey to establish diplomatic ties and end a century of enmity between the two neighbors.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul attended the initial World Cup qualifier in Armenia last year.

"The president of Turkey came to Armenia at my invitation and I don't see a serious reason not to accept his invitation," Sarkisian told reporters before traveling to Moscow. "If in the coming two days nothing extraordinary happens, I'll accept his invitation. I'll go to Bursa and support our team."

Sarkisian had previously said he would not attend Wednesday's return game unless there was progress toward opening the border between the two countries. Although the deal signed Saturday calls for it, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that Armenia must first withdraw from the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.

The statement appeared to be an effort to appease Azerbaijan, a Turkish ally that has criticized the new agreement.

Armenia controls the enclave and it is inhabited mainly by ethnic Armenians. Turkey sealed its border with Armenia in response to the country's invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1993.

Sarkisian said Monday that the statements by Turkey's leaders were addressed primarily to the people of Azerbaijan.

"Today the ball is on Turkey's playing field," the Armenian president said. "We have already spoken out about our steps and will move in this direction. We have enough patience to wait for the developments. We will move forward with no wavering."

Among the considerable hurdles to implementation of the agreement is the anger of government opponents in Armenia. The leader of the Dashnak-Tsutyun party vowed Monday to fight against parliament's ratification of the agreement and said the party would organize a protest Friday.

In Azerbaijan, the opposition National Independence Party said Turkey had "cast a shadow" over ties with Azerbaijan by signing the agreement without first securing the end of what it called the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby territory.

In Moscow, Sarkisian thanked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for supporting Armenia's efforts to develop relations with Turkey. Russia has better relations with Armenia than with its neighbors in the strategic South Caucasus - Azerbaijan and particularly Georgia - and has powerful influence over the small, economically struggling country.


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