Turkey president to make historic visit to Armenia

Turkish President Abdullah Gul is preparing a groundbreaking visit to Armenia to watch a football game with his counterpart Serzh Sarksyan on Saturday. Both countries have called for closer diplomatic ties despite major historical disagreements.


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ANKARA, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Turkish President Abdullah Gul
will visit Armenia at the weekend for a soccer match, the
president's office said on Wednesday, in a major diplomatic step
for the two states which have no diplomatic ties.

Turkey severed diplomatic relations with Armenia in protest
against Yerevan's control of Nagorno-Karabakh region over which
Armenia fought Turkey's ally Azerbaijan in a war in the 1990s.

Armenia and Turkey will play against each other in the
Armenian capital Yerevan on Sept. 6 in a qualifying match for
the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"We believe that this match will be instrumental in removing
the barriers blocking the rapprochment between the two peoples
with common history and prepare a new ground," a statement on
the president's official website said.

"We hope that this will be an opportunity for the two
peoples to understand each other better," it said.

Turkey and Armenia are at odds over the question whether
ethnic Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks during World War One
were victims of genocide.

Armenia wants Turkey to recognise what it calls a systematic
genocide of Armenians during World War One. Yerevan says that
1.5 million ethnic Armenians died at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

Turkey strongly denies the accusations and says that both
Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in the fighting.

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan invited Gul to watch the
football match, and called for closer ties with Turkey.

The tiny ex-Soviet republic of Armenia is sandwiched between
Turkey and Azerbaijan in a region that is emerging as an
important transit route for oil exports from the Caspian Sea to
the world markets.

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