Gul’s Office Confirms Visit, Envoy Meets with Sarkisian, Nalbandian

ANKARA, YEREVAN (Combined Armenia’s)–The Turkish President’s office Wednesday officially confirmed that President Abdullah Gul would visit Armenia for a weekend soccer match.

Meanwhile, a senior Turkish diplomat was in Armenia Wednesday meeting leaders in Yerevan to discuss arrangemen’s for President Abdullah Gul’s expected visit to Armenia.

Armenia and Turkey will play against each other in the Armenian capital Yerevan on September 6 in a qualifying match for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"We believe that this match will be instrumental in removing the barriers blocking the rapprochement between the two peoples with common history and prepare a new ground," a statement on the president’s official website said.

"We hope that this will be an opportunity for the two peoples to understand each other better," it said.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian invited Gul to watch the soccer match, and called for closer ties with Turkey.

Unal Cevikoz, deputy undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, arrived in the Armenian capital the previous night at the head of a government delegation comprising members of Gul’s protocol and security services.

They were due to familiarize themselves with security measures that will be taken in and around the city’s Hrazdan stadium, the venue for Saturday’s first-ever match between the Armenian and Turkish national soccer teams. Sarkisian has invited his Turkish counterpart to watch the World Cup qualifier with him, raising more hopes for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Cevikoz went into talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian after being taken on a conducted tour of Yerevan in the morning. Official Armenian sources gave few details of the talks, saying only that they discussed practical modalities of what would be the first-ever visit to Armenia by a president of modern-day Turkey.

But according to Armenpress, they discussed a sponsored Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, a regional cooperation framework that would bring together Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Cevikoz declined a comment when approached by RFE/RL after the meeting with Nalbandian. For his part, Sarkisian’s spokesman Samvel Farmanian told RFE/RL that Gul’s visit has still not been officially confirmed.

According to some Turkish officials and media, Gul has decided to accept Sarkisian’s invitation and will officially announce the decision this week. His reported intention to arrive in Yerevan has already been criticized by Turkey’s two main opposition parties that want Ankara to stick to its long-standing preconditions for improving Turkish-Armenian relations.

In a statement, Sarkisian’s office said the Armenian president and Foreign Minister also discussed with Cevikoz the Turkish proposal to set up the so-called Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform,

“Armenia has always welcomed and welcomes all efforts to bolster mutual trust, stability and security and to deepen cooperation in the region,” he was quoted as telling the visiting Turkish diplomat.

Nalbandian was also reported to welcome the idea floated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month.

In related news, the Director of Dzidzernagapert’s Armenian Genocide Museum institute, Hayk Demoyan, Wednesday welcomed Gul’s visit to Armenia, calling it a “very correct step,” that will be beneficial for Armenia.

Demoyan’s remarks came during a press conference Wednesday where he explained that Turkey had to respond positively to Sarkisian’s invitation because responding “no” to the soccer match invitation would have resulted in negative reactions from the international community.

“We have no preconditions for Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s visit. The visit is not solely related to Armenian-Turkish relations, he said. “It regards the region as a whole and refers to Armenia-Turkey-Azerbaijan relations vis-?-vis the world powers.”

According to Demoyan, a thaw in Armenian-Turkish relations will yield to new developmen’s in the entire region.

“These developmen’s may be very rapid as is the case in the Caucasus,” Demoyan remarked, noting that a normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey would serve the interests of world powers. “In this situation the country faces the challenge of ensuring security.”

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