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Turkish, Armenian leaders pledge to end enmity

Latest update : 2008-09-06

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarksyan pledged to work on reconciling their two countries before watching a football World Cup qualifier together in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Watch our Top Story on 'Turkey's growing regional clout'.

 

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul paid an historic visit to Armenia on Saturday, seeking to end bitter animosity that dates back to the killing of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.
   
In the first trip by a Turkish head of state to the ex-Soviet nation, Gul held talks with Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian, after which the two pledged to overcome decades of enmity.
   
Both leaders said there was now the "political will" to mend ties betwen the two neighbours before heading off together to Yerevan's Hrazdan stadium to watch a World Cup football qualifier between their nations.
   
Sarkisian said he had been asked by Gul to attend the return fixture in Turkey on October 14 but did not say whether or not he had accepted.
   
The two countries -- which have no diplomatic relations -- have waged an international diplomatic battle over Yerevan's efforts to have the 1915-1917 massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians recognised as genocide.
   
Several hundred angry nationalist protestors lined the route of Gul's motorcade as it made its way into the capital from Yerevan airport to see Sarkisian.
   
Holding aloft their nation's flag as well as the emblem of the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation, they complained bitterly that Gul was visiting when Turkey refuses to admit genocide.
   
"We are here because we want to tell the entire world that we do not forget the genocide of 1915. We will not welcome Gul or any other Turk until they have recognised the genocide," one protester, Bardasar Akhpar, told AFP.
   
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people were killed between 1915 and 1917 in orchestrated massacres during World War I as the Ottoman Empire fell apart -- a claim supported by several other countries.
   
Turkey rejects the genocide label and argues that 300,000-500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading Russian troops.
   
Officials said extra security measures had been employed on Gul's airport route and at the match, while local media reported that both Turkish and Armenian snipers would be training their sights across the Hrazdan stadium.
   
Apart from the protestors on the airport road, the streets of Yerevan appeared calm ahead of the game.
   
Planeloads of Turkish fans and peace activists have been arriving in the city since Friday.
   
"I'm not interested in football at all. In fact, I hate it because of the nationalism that comes with it," said Ahmet Turkana, a Turkish activist from a pro-democracy group called Young Civilians.
   
"But today it's different. Football is here to unite, not to divide."
   
Sevak Sahakian, a hotel worker in Yerevan said: "Everyone knows about it and people are happy because they hope better ties with Turkey will improve daily life. But people aren't enthusiastic because they don't trust the Turks."
   
Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia since the former Soviet republic gained independence in 1991.
   
In 1993 Turkey also shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, then at war with Armenia over Nagorny Karabakh, an Armenian-majority region in Azerbaijan which declared independence.
   
The move dealt a heavy blow to Armenia, an impoverished nation wedged between Turkey and Azerbaijan in the strategic Caucasus region.
   
Speaking on his plane to Yerevan, Gul had said his visit was aimed at "creating the atmosphere" to pave the way for dialogue to resolve bilateral problems which he did not specify.
   
"I am not going to sweep important problems under the carpet just because dealing with them will wear me out," Gul was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying.
   
He cautioned against major expectations from his visit, which has also come under sharp criticism at home.
   
"I am not going to Armenia to take risks and make any proposals or deals," Gul said.

Date created : 2008-09-06

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