YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Turkish President Abdullah Gul met with his Armenian counterpart after he arrived in Yerevan Saturday. Gul was met at Yerevan’s airport by Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, then was whisked off to a meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian .
Thousands of supporters of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation greeted Gul’s motorcade from Yerevan airport with placards reading "No to genocide" and "Accept the truth." The party continued its protest with a candlelight vigil at the Dzidzernagapert Memorial monument.
Thousands of protesters demanded that Turkey recognize the Genocide, as Gul drove through the Armenian capital Saturday. Gul’s motorcade traveled from Yerevan airport Saturday along streets lined with thousands of people holding placards reading, in English and Armenian, "We want justice,"Turkey admit your guilt," and "1915 never again."
Others held up the names of places in eastern Turkey from where they said their ancestors had been forced to leave under an Ottoman policy of uprooting Armenian communities. "I am from Van," said one placard, printed in white letters on black like a funeral notice.
At the end of their private meeting, Gul invited Sarkisian to the next match between their national teams in Turkey.
“President of Turkey Abdullah Gul invited me to watch the response football game in Istanbul. I consider it a good beginning,” Sarkisian said Saturday at a briefing after his meeting with Gul, reported the Armenpress news agency.
“We expressed hope that we are able to display good will and solve the issues existing between our countries and not pass them to next generations. I saw readiness, I saw the desire to establish stability and peace in the region for which I am very happy,” said Sarkisian praising Gul’s decision to accept his invitation.
“Assessing the opportunity of the meeting of the national soccer teams, we met in Yerevan and exchanged ideas first of all over making the region a territory of stability and cooperation,” said Gul at the joint press conference.
“We displayed a political will to create an atmosphere for the solution of issues between Armenia and Turkey. I hope that my visit will create an opportunity for the regulation of bilateral relations,” added Gul. He expressed gratitude for the invitation and for the proper assessment of the opportunity to utilize the soccer match as a meeting platform.
“I also express gratitude to the respected president for the support of our suggestion over creation a platform of stability and cooperation in Caucasus,” concluded Gul. Speaking at the joint press conference after those talks, Gul said, "I hope that this visit will create the possibility to improve bilateral relations."
Sarkisian declared that there is now the "political will to decide the questions between our countries, so that these problems are not passed on to the next generation."
Speaking ahead of his eagerly anticipated arrival in Yerevan, Gul had said he hoped the match would help lift the barriers dividing two people "who share a common history and will contribute to regional friendship and peace."
Gul told journalists on the plane that he hoped his visit would "lay the groundwork for solving the problems between Turkey and Armenia," as well as promote the Turkish government’s plan to create a regional group for the Caucasus.
Reuters quoted Gul aboard the plane en route to Armenia as praising Sarkisian for his "brave" decision to invite him to the game.
The "Turkish Daily News" quoted diplomatic sources as saying the agenda of the meeting between Gul and Sarkisian would include bilateral relations and Ankara’s proposal to set up a joint committee of historians to study the Genocide.
"My president’s visit to Yerevan…is going to be an important step to open doors for dialogue with Armenia," Ali Babacan told Reuters.
"The current circumstances, we believe, are conducive for such a bold step [as the bilateral visit]," Babacan said in an interview late on September 5 in Avignon, France, where he was attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Babacan said the fighting in neighboring Georgia "showed we need to come up with a fresh approach to resolution of conflict in the Caucasus."
The minister rejected Turkish opposition criticism of the rapprochement with Armenia, saying it was time for "more open views."
Reporting from Yerevan, RFE/RL Armenian Service correspondent Emil Danielyan said shortly before Gul’s arrival that "football fans are getting ready for this big game." Danielyan said full-page advertisemen’s placed by four local companies in many Armenian newspapers welcome the Turkish leader to their country and urge the "honorable Mr. President Abdullah Gul" to keep hopes of a diplomatic thaw alive by "play[ing] beyond 90 minutes."
Gul is the first Turkish head of state to visit Armenia’since it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The two states do not have diplomatic relations.
Meanwhile, visiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly special rapporteur on Karabakh Goran Lenmarker told Armenia’s Parliament Speaker Tigran Torosian that Turkey must find the courage to come to terms with its history and recognize the Armenian genocide.