ANKARA (Combined Sources)–The leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party launched harsh criticism at President Abdullah Gul Friday for accepting an invitation by his Armenian counterpart to visit Yerevan for a soccer match Saturday sarcastically calling on him to go and pray at the Genocide Memorial Monument Complex at Dzidzernagapert .
"What has Armenia done to change its policy of hostility towards Turkey over the issue; what has it done to withdraw from Azerbaijani territory? Nothing," Deniz Baykal, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), told the Turkish news channel NTV.
"Perhaps he [Gul] could go and pray at the site of the Armenian genocide and lay a wreath while he is there," added Baykal, repeating his staunch opposition to the president’s visit to the Armenian capital.
Gul has been invited by his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan to attend a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Yerevan on Saturday afternoon to become the first Turkish president to go to Armenia.
The diplomatic ties between the two countries have long been severed over Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide.
Turkey denies the genocide and has close relations with Azerbaijan. In 1993, Turkey shut its border with Armenia in a show of unity with Baku, which was waging a war against the newly independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Ankara hopes Gul’s weekend visit, though sharply criticized by Turkish opposition parties and nationalists, would favor Ankara’s Caucasus Stability Pact–a proposal that would intensify political and economic cooperation in the region.
State Minister Mehmet Aydin has noted "The facts that we have do not support the theory that the visit will resolve all the problems, but it is not right to assume that nothing will come of it either,
Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan responded to similar criticism by nationalist opposition leader Devlet Bahceli–who suggested the government acted under foreign pressure concerning rapprochement moves with Armenia–reminding him of past contacts between late Alpaslan Turkes, the founder of Bahceli’s party, and Armenian officials.
"Going to Armenia by bowing to foreign pressures and impositions and by surrendering to Armenian lobbies inside [the country] will be historical heedlessness and such a manner will wound Turkey’s honor," Bahceli said in the statement.
"We have difficulty in understanding Mr. Bahceli’s statement that this visit will harm Turkey’s honor and self-esteem," Babacan said, saying that it was not possible to accept Bahceli’s accusing statement.
Turkey has recognized Armenia’since the early 1990s and there have been contacts at various levels between the two countries, including those held by statesmen of the time starting from the first half of the 1990s, Babacan remarked.
"Within this framework, there are talks held in line with the responsibility of a statesman by the late Alpaslan Turkes with [Levon] Ter-Petrosian," Babacan said, referring to talks between former Armenian President Ter-Petrosian and former MHP leader Turkes in 1993.
At the time, Turkes indicated that he had informed the prime minister and foreign minister of Turkey that a meeting was planned between himself and Ter-Petrossian, noting that the Turkish ambassador and counselor were also at the meeting which was aimed at trying to see if the Karabakh conflict could be brought to a close.
"If this visit is carried out, it will not be a result of foreign pressures and impositions, but will be a reflection of Turkey’s constructive efforts for making contributions to peace and stability in the international field and in its region," Babacan said.