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Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
11 July 2008 - ERAREN
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="justify">The very short history of Turco-Armenian relations is full of Turkey’s marks of good will towards Armenia. Turkey was one of the first countries recognizing Armenia’s independence, which was even before the US recognition. Although Turkey has expected Armenia reciprocate by recognizing her territorial integrity, this has not happened within the 16 years passed.

Şad a big crisis in the early years of 1990s due to the 1988 earthquake, dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the Karabagh War with Azerbaijan. Turkey provided some 100 thousand tones weat and electricity to Armenia for some time. Moreover, she also allowed foreign planes to use her airspace to bring humanitarian aid to Armenia, even though smuggling weapons was a possibility. When the Karabagh issue came onto the surface, Turkey, instead of fully supporting Azerbaijan, rather chose to have a negotiator role, and did not put enough pressure to Armenia. However, apart from the then President Ter Petrosyan’s some moderate statements, Turkey had no positive response to her good interntions.

Turkey changed this moderate policy, and closed her border and airspace when Armenia invaded Kelbecer in Azeri territory, and attacked Sederek of Nahchevan, a few kilometers close to the Turkish border. However, after two years, due to some suggestions made and within the same framework of good intentions, Turkey opened her airspace to Armenian planes. Meanwhile, many Armenian citizens came to Turkey after the decision on granting tourist visa in the border was made, and they were allowed to  work in Turkey, even illegally. The capacity of trade these people made and money they sent to Armenia was by all means significant for the Armenian economy.

Despite the genocide claims causing many problems, Turkey has not pursued an hostility policy towards Armenia. However, due to the disappointments faced,  Turkey was obliged to abandon her marks of good will. The uncompromising policies of the then President Robert Kocharyan towards Turkey made any conceivable developments between the two countries impossible.

Serj Sarkisyan, the new President of Armenia, on the other hand, has seemed to be keen on compromising. However, instead of taking some concrete initiatives
he prepared to invite the Turkish President, Abdullah Gül, to the football match that will be played between Armenia and Turkey, expecting one more gesture.

Some developments in Armenia show that this invitation was not only made to improve the relations of the two countries, but, rather, was a result of some domestic developments.

Serj Sarkisyan, although winning more than 50% of the votes, is still facing serious problems. Following the elections the demonstrations organized by the supporters of Ter Petrosyan, the former president, were forcefully scattered, ten people were killed and many were arrested, while the media was censored. Thereafter, as a result of the Council of Europe and some other countries reacting these developments, the government attempted to liberalize its legislation. Nevertheless, new demonstrations convened by the Petrosyan supporters are taking place, and many people are still in jail. Furthermore, the deteriorating economy, and the increasing inflation rate have been the problems with which Sarkisyan has to deal.

Thus, it would not be wrong to assume that the President of Armenia needed an urgent initiative to influence its public opinion, and, within this framework, it is understood that he invited the Turkish President to the football match to be played in Erivan.

Except the Dashnaks and Ter Petrosyan’s supporters, the public opinion in Armenia as well as in Turkey welcomed this invitation.

In addition to a possible visit of Gül to Armenia, if Sarkisyan succeeds to pursuade Turkey to open the border without making a major concession he may earn the prestige he needs, and may be able to neutralize the opposition.

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