Today's Zaman
Sept 3 2008

Although deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK
Party) will not attend a soccer game between Armenia and Turkey in
Yerevan this weekend, it is likely that President Abdullah Gul will
attend the match upon an invitation from his Armenian counterpart
despite harsh criticism from the opposition.

While some academics say they cannot understand the attitude of the
opposition, others say the visit may indeed be problematic.

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan had previously invited Gul to
watch the Sept. 6. World Cup qualifying match between the Turkish
and Armenian national teams in Yerevan, with which Ankara does not
have any official relations.

The necessary diplomatic back channels are in place for organizing
the possible presidential visit.

Turkey's opposition parties have been extremely critical of Gul's
possible visit. Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal
said the government is trying to reverse the country's official policy
without Armenia meeting any of the conditions demanded by Turkey
for the normalization of ties. He also warned against alienating
Azerbaijan, saying this country is of vital importance for Turkey in
many respects.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), whose late leader, Alparslan
TurkeÅ~_, worked to improve ties between Turkey and Armenia, has
also opposed Gul's possible visit. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has
said Gul's visit would be a historic mistake that would harm Turkey's
national pride.

Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Armenia's
independence, but it closed its border and severed formal ties with
Yerevan after Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Turkish
policy, the normalization of ties requires an Armenian withdrawal
from Azerbaijani territory, the shelving of Yerevan's support for
the Armenian diaspora's efforts to win international recognition for
Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire
and Armenia's formal recognition of the current border with Turkey.

Professor Hasan Köni, from BahceÅ~_ehir University's international
relations department, says a visit by Gul to Yerevan would be in
Turkey's interests and that if the opposition is opposing it, it may
be because they are not well informed about the recent situation in
the Caucasus.

"The situation in the Caucasus is even more complicated now. Turkey is
trying to follow a policy that serves stability. Gul's visit will serve
this aim," Köni says, adding that the Foreign Ministry should inform
the opposition parties about the recent situation in the Caucasus.

Baskın Oran, another professor of international relations who supports
Gul's possible visit to Yerevan, said that he finds it difficult to
understand the position taken by the opposition parties. "Actually,
I was not surprised by the attitude of the CHP. ... But the MHP's
stance is surprising since their late chairman worked to improve
relations between Turkey and Armenia," he says.

But another opposition party, the Democratic Society party (DTP),
supports Gul's visit to Yerevan. DTP co-chairwoman Emine Ayna pointed
out that the soccer game will not solve the problems between the two
countries and Turkey will not lose anything, but that Gul's visit
will nonetheless serve to develop dialogue between the two countries.

"Turkey is in denial about some things and the Armenians have some
negative attitudes. These problems should be solved," Ayna told the
Cihan news agency recently.

Apart from diplomatic concerns, the main practical reason for opposing
Gul's visit is security.

Many AK Party deputies wanted to attend the game, but the party
administration decided not to give permission due to security concerns.

Kaan Soyak, from the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council,
stressed that a new beginning is needed and that security will be
assured in Yerevan. "I don't think that there will be protests but
if there are any, the Armenian state will silence them," Soyak said.

But Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis (TURKSAM)
Chairman Sinan Ogan is doubtful about security in Armenia and warns
that if there are any protests or security problems, relations between
two countries could get even worse. "It is very difficult to control
a stadium. There is a huge risk there and I am not sure it is worth
taking this risk," he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish national team coach Fatih Terim said yesterday
at a press conference the game in Yerevan is a game, not a war:
"It is true that our rivals will prepare for this game with a special
motivation. For us this is just a soccer game. When I think about my
friends from all over the world that I met because of soccer, it is
impossible for me think in another way. You cannot prepare yourself
for a game while thinking about history and political problems. We
cannot carry the burden of history on our shoulders, if we do that
it will slow us down."

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