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06.09.2008

Turkey beats Armenia in a historic game attended by both leaders

Hurriyet English

The national teams of Armenia and Turkey came together on Saturday in a World Cup qualifying match in Yerevan. However this game had greater significance than regular sporting competitions given the attendance of the presidents of both countries, who do not have any diplomatic relations. Turkey won the match 2-0. (UPDATED)
Expectations were low for a major breakthrough in the frozen relations between the two countries during the football diplomacy, but it was seen as an opportunity to start taking steps toward the normalization of relations.  
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has invited his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to watch the game together in Yerevan to mark "a new symbolic start in the countries' relations". Gul had accepted the invitation.
Gul met Saturday Sargsyan at the Armenian president's office for talks during the Turkish president’s historical visit to the Caucasus nation.
The two leaders said there now is a "political will" to resolve decades of animosity, following landmark talks in Yerevan.
"I hope that this visit will create the possiblity to improve bilateral relations," Gul was quoted by AFP as saying at a joint press conference with Sargsyan.
Sargsyan declared there now is a "political will to decide the questions between our countries, so that these problems are not passed on to the next generation".
The Armenian president also said he had been invited by Gul to attend a return football match between the two nations in Turkey next year.
"Today the president of Turkey invited me for a reciprocal visit to Turkey to watch the next match. I think this is a good start," Sargsyan said.
Gul also said the two "shared opinions on how to bring stability and cooperation to the Caucasus region" and thanked Sargsyan for welcoming a Turkish proposal for a new regional forum in the volatile zone.
NATO member Turkey has called for the establishment of a forum to boost cooperation in the Caucasus, involving regional countries and Moscow, after tensions between Georgia and Russia erupted in a military conflict last month.
Sargsyan, for his part, said he was "very pleased" to see from Turkey "a readiness to create stability and cooperation in the region."
TURKEY WINS THE GAME
The leaders went to the stadium to watch the World Cup qualifier between Armenia and Turkey that began at 1600 GMT, after the meeting.  
Armenian fans booed and hissed as Gul took his seat at the stadium and as the Turkish national anthem played, AFP reported.
Turkey won the match 2-0.
Tuncay Sanli scored in the 60th minute of the match to give Turkey a 1-0 lead. The second goal came from Semih Senturk in the 78. minute.
Security was tight for the two presidents, who sat together with their delegations in a special bullet-proof area. At the final whistle the groups exchanged handshakes and applauded as the players on the pitch traded shirts.
LIFTING BARRIERS
Before his departure for Yerevan, Gul said he hoped his trip would not only draw the two countries together, but also contribute to regional peace.
"It is my wish that this match will help lift the barriers dividing two people who share a common history and will contribute to regional friendship and peace," Gul said.
"We have noticed a month ago how disputes in the Caucasus region pose a threat to stability and peace in the region. The war between the Russian Federation and Georgia had an impact not only on the regional countries but the whole globe," he said.
Gul said Sargsyan and he would have an opportunity to discuss the developments in the region, adding his visit to Yerevan took place at an important period.
"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 except with Armenia. During my visit to Yerevan, I will have a chance to exchange viewpoints on this platform with the Armenian President Sargsyan," Turkish president 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.
Gul was welcomed by Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian at Yerevan's Zvartnots airport. The airport has been decorated with Turkish and Armenian flags.
Armenian officials have implemented tight security measures in Yerevan. Streets around the stadium and the presidential office were closed to traffic.
FIRST PRESIDENT VISITING ARMENIA
Gul became the first Turkish leader ever to set foot in neighboring Armenia.
Turkey is among the first countries that recognized Armenia when it declared its independency in the early 1990s.
However there is no diplomatic relations between two countries, as Armenia presses the international community to admit the so-called "genocide" claims instead of accepting Turkey's call to investigate the allegations, and its invasion of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory despite U.N. Security Council resolutions on the issue.
Turkey hopes an enhancement of mutual relations would eventually help to bring an end to the so-called genocide claims with the establishment of a commission to investigate the true history and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In 2005, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took a tentative first step towards resolving the thorny genocide issue by proposing that a joint commission of historians launch an investigation and publish their conclusions.
The proposal was rejected by Yerevan and expectations are high in Turkey that the warming relations would help Armenia to accept this proposal.
Armenia, with the backing of the Diaspora, claims up to 1.5 million of their kin were slaughtered in orchestrated killings in 1915. Turkey rejects the claims, saying that 300,000 Armenians along with at least as many Turks died in civil strife that emerged when Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia.