It looks more and more likely that Turkish President Abdullah Gul will visit Armenia for a soccer match on September 6. Sources in both Ankara and Yerevan have told our correspondents that preparations for the trip are under way, but the details are being kept hush-hush until the last minute because of security concerns.
It still isn't clear if the border, closed since 1993, is going to be opened. Initial reports suggested that it would be, prompting images of flag-waving Turkish soccer fans streaming in trains across the border.
But yesterday, the head of the Armenian soccer federation told RFE/RL that Turkish fans will not be coming to Armenia. (Instead, he said, a large delegation of Turkish journalists and officials will come.) And Turkish officials have told RFE/RL that if soccer fans do come, they'll come by air -- and that there are no current plans on the Turkish side to open the border.
Regardless, if Gul does make the trip it would be historic as the two countries don't have diplomatic relations and their soccer teams have never played against each other.
Turkey is actually in a bit of a bind
. As Barcin Yinanc writes in the"Turkish Daily News,"
"Saying no [to the visit] would mean that Turkey is closed to dialogue. It would create the image that it cannot even tolerate an initiative based on a humanitarian framework like football."
But by sending Gul (and not an army of football fans), Ankara risks the possibility of thousands of Armenians booing its president in the stadium and thus giving visibility and credence to the Armenians' genocide-recognition cause.
Turkey could also do well out of the trip. There are two interrelated factors in play: first, Turkey's diplomatic ascendancy in the region and Ankara's proposed Caucasus Stability Pact, which would bring together Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia; and second, bilateral Armenia-Turkey ties, which are bedeviled
by the genocide issue and Nagorno-Karabakh.
For Turkey's proposed pact to gain ground in the Caucasus, Ankara needs Armenia on board. It would simply be a too conspicuous regional absence and might dissuade the Russians from taking part. Jamestown has a good piece
on the pact and the recent diplomacy in the Caucasus.
-- Luke Allnutt