Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

EU hails Turkey's 'historic' Armenia visit

The EU has hailed the decision of Turkish president Abdullah Gul to go to Armenia on Saturday (6 September) as a "historic and highly symbolic visit," expressing hopes that it constitutes a first step in the normalisation of tense relations between the two countries.

Mr Gul's office earlier this week confirmed he had accepted an invitation from his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan to attend a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup finals between the two nations in Yerevan.

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  • "This match could lift the obstacles blocking the coming together of two peoples who share a common history," Turkey said (Photo: European Parliament)

"This trip is a strong and encouraging sign for relations between Armenia and Turkey," EU presidency country France said in a statement.

"The [EU] Presidency hopes that this historic and highly symbolic visit will foster a climate favourable to the normalisation of relations between the two countries, to which it looks forward," it added.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn also called the trip an "important first step" and said he hoped it would "soon [be] followed by others that lead to a full normalisation of relations between these two countries, which would enhance stability in the region and prepare the ground for strengthened regional cooperation."

The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since Armenia broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991. On Saturday, Mr Gul will become the first Turkish head of state to visit Armenia.

The main reason for the hostility between the two countries is Yerevan's push for the killings by Turkish troops of Armenians during and after World War I to be internationally recognised as "genocide."

Armenia says Turkey killed 1.5 million of its people, but Turkey contests the figures saying that around 300,000 Armenians – but also as many Turks – were killed in the last moments of the dying Ottoman empire, when Armenians were striving for independence.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan over a conflict about Nagorno-Karabakh - an Armenian-majority region in Azerbaijan which proclaimed independence leading to civil war.

Turkey is an official candidate to join the EU since 1999 and opened accession negotiations with the bloc in 2005. The EU has always insisted that good neighbourly relations are an important pre-condition for any EU hopeful.

Georgia aftermath

"A visit around this [football] match can create a new climate of friendship in the region," the Turkish presidency said in a statement posted on its website. "This match could lift the obstacles blocking the coming together of two peoples who share a common history and can create a new foundation."

Saturday's visit, which is only expected to last a few hours, is also being viewed in the light of the Georgia-Russia conflict.

"The crisis in Georgia has underlined the importance of good neighbourly relations in the region, including Turkish-Armenian relations," Mr Rehn said, with the French presidency also backing a new Turkish plan to boost reguional relations via the "Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform."

"This is a significant Turkish contribution to this region's stability, security and development, which is taking on a new dimension in the context of the conflict in Georgia," France said.

Turkey's proposed "platform" is planned to include Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia and aims to establish regional conflict resolution mechanisms and broader economic cooperation among the five countries involved, Turkish media report.

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