ANKARA (Combined Sources) – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday urged soccer fans to keep politics away when Turkey and Armenia face each other on the pitch in a World Cup qualifier, as the two neighbors aim to establish diplomatic ties.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has confirmed his attendance at a World Cup qualifier in Turkey on Wednesday, which will take place days after Ankara and Yerevan signed an accord to end a century of hostility.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul went last year to Yerevan to the first leg of what has been called “soccer diplomacy” between the two countries, whose ties are traumatized by over a century of denial by Turkey of the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government from 1915-1923.
“The Armenian president and the Armenian national team will see what Turkish hospitality is,” Erdogan told deputies of his ruling AK Party ahead of the game in the city of Bursa.
“I know our soccer fans in Bursa and in the rest of the country will behave like respectable fans. I believe our country and the citizens of Bursa will not bow their heads to politics and to the aims of those who want to use the game to achieve something else,” Erdogan said.
Turkish media said authorities will undertake tight security measures to avoid possible provocations during the game. “Aksam” newspaper said fans would not be allowed to buy tickets for the match, instead authorities would control ticket distribution.
Two security zones have been set up at the entrance to the stadium, according to the Armenian news.am online portal. Fans entering the stadium will be x-rayed and trained dogs will also be on site.
Three thousand policemen and servicemen will also be on alert, while 500 civilian security guards will be stationed throughout the crowd. 300 policemen, meanwhile, have been assigned to guard the Armenian national team, which is staying at Bursa’s Holiday Inn Hotel. Another Armenian delegation, staying in Tugce Hotel, has a similar security detail.
The governor of Bursa, Sahabettin Harput, has said Azeri flags will not be allowed into the stadium for the match, media reports said, but Turkish nationalists have made some 10,000 of the flags and are distributing them in the northwestern town.
Harput said the city will show the best of its hospitality and national culture during the Armenian delegation’s stay. “I believe that friendship will win as a result of the match.”
He added that during their two-day stay in Bursa the Armenian delegation has been “acquainted with Turkey’s national culture, traditions, local peculiarities and population.”
Chestnuts and other refreshments will be served to the Armenian diplomatic corps and President Serzh Sarkisian during their stay in Turkey, news.am said.