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Turkish President in Armenia on Historic Trip

  • Dorian Jones

The Turkish President Abdullah Gul arrived in the Armenian capital Yerevan, the first time a Turkish head of state has visited the country. Mr. Gul was there to attend a soccer match he said could help end almost a century of mutual hostility and aid security in the broader Caucasus region. For VOA, Dorian Jones has this report from Istanbul.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul's jet arrived in Armenia on this historical visit escorted by attack helicopters. Police and demonstrators lined the traffic-free streets as his motorcade sped through downtown Yerevan.

Ankara and Yerevan have no diplomatic ties but a relationship haunted by the question of whether ethnic Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks during World War One were victims of systematic genocide.

The director of Armenia's National Genocide Museum, Hayk Demoyan, hailed Mr. Gul's visit, saying this could be a positive step in talking about the issue of genocide.

"Armenians fighting for genocide recognition and for restoring the rights of the survivors and descendants of the survivors is just part of the global movement of prevention. So this is not anti-Turkish or something against Turkish people," said Demoyan. "We also realize that there a lot of problems in public memory and national memory of Turkey and Turkish people. That's why this is a matter of two people. We have to talk, we have to agree, we have to negotiate."

But the controversy continues to fuel nationalist anger in both countries.

President Gul was strongly criticized for agreeing to visit Armenia by both the main Turkish opposition parties, who accused him of betraying Turkey and its close ally Azerbaijan. Armenia is occupying a region of Azerbaijani territory, which has resulted in Turkey enforcing a trade embargo against Armenia since 1993, crippling the Armenian economy.

In Yerevan, reaction to Mr. Gul's visit is mixed.

This man says Mr. Gul's visit is of no importance. He says his team will win in any case. He says he would like Mr. Gul to leave Armenia in a bad mood, but only because his team has lost the game.

Another man has a more positive view.

He says he thinks that the meeting of the two presidents will discuss problems which may help to normalize the Armenian-Turkish relationship.

Turkish diplomatic sources have played down any expectations of a breakthrough in bilateral relations. But experts say if Mr. Gul's visit passes off smoothly, it's real success can be that it will open the door to future dialogue.
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