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Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-10-15

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan made a landmark visit to Turkey for the Turkey-Armenia World Cup qualifier match on Wednesday, heralding a new era of diplomatic co-operation between the two countries.

Goals from Halil Altintop and Servet Cetin earned Turkey a 2-0 victory against Armenia in their World Cup Group Five qualifier on Wednesday - small consolation after they failed to qualify for next year's Cup.

The significance of the game was more political than athletic as Turkish President Abdullah Gul and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarksyan appeared side by side in the packed stadium, just a few days after Saturday's signature of a landmark accord to establish formal ties and reopen their joint border.

It was a scene that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.


Turkish fans boo Armenian anthem

On the pitch, the reconciliation got off to a rough start.

Just before the game kicked off, Turkish fans loudly booed Armenia’s national anthem and players, despite appeals for respect and hospitality coming from loudspeakers.

It was not the first time something like that had happened. Back in September 2008, Armenian football fans booed Turkish President Abdullah Gul who had travelled to Yerevan to watch the Turkish national team play Armenia in the first leg of the World Cup qualifier.

On Wednesday, tight security was deployed around and inside the 18,600-capacity stadium, in the northwestern city of Bursa, a former Ottoman imperial city.

Armenia blames Turkey for the 1915 genocide in which more than a million Armenians were killed. But Turkey has insisted that a large numbers of Ottoman Turks also died in the fighting.

Football diplomacy

The Turkish and Armenian parliaments must now approve the accord for it to take effect. The reopening of the border could help poverty-stricken Armenia break its geographical isolation and should also strengthen Turkey’s European Union membership bid.

In Turkey, the government has the votes to ratify the accord, says FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer.

But the Armenian government is expected to face tougher challenges. “The opposition is much stronger in Armenia,” he adds.


Date created : 2009-10-14