By Ruben Meloyan
Armenia’s leader will pay a visit to Turkey next fall, it emerged late on Monday after the talks of the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers in Istanbul.
President Serzh Sarkisian is expected to attend the World Cup qualifier between the national soccer teams of Armenia and Turkey to be held in October 2009.
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian stated in Istanbul this will become a return visit after Turkish President Abdullah Gul attended a similar soccer match in Yerevan last September.
Nalbandian was in Turkey to attend a meeting of the Istanbul-based Black Sea Economic Cooperation, an organization embracing a dozen nations, including Armenia, which recently assumed the structure’s rotating chairmanship.
Before meeting Ali Babacan, the Armenian minister held a press conference during which he said that the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of the common border between Armenia and Turkey meets the two nations’ interests and can serve as a means for establishing security in the region.
“When I am saying normalizing relations I mean the opening of borders without any precondition and establishing diplomatic relations, and Armenia is ready to do that without any preconditions,” Nalbandian said. “We expect the same approach from the Turkish side. I am optimistic because I don’t think we have any serious obstacles to normalizing our relations.”
The two states have not had diplomatic relations since 1993 when Ankara closed its land border in protest at the Armenian military advancement in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory in Turkey-allied Azerbaijan.
Relations are also strained by Turkey’s refusal to accept the World War I-era killings of more than 1.5 million Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
Some rapprochement has been observed in the relations between the two estranged neighbors after the Turkish head of state responded to his Armenian counterpart’s invitation and paid a historic visit to Yerevan to attend a soccer match.
The latest negotiations between the two countries’ top diplomats reportedly lasted more than two hours and were held behind closed doors. The sides were reportedly to have discussed bilateral relations, the recent Turkish initiative of establishing a so-called cooperation and security platform in the Caucasus as well as other issues concerning the broader region.
“Our aim is to totally normalize bilateral relations,” Babacan said after the meeting, according to media reports.
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan told RFE/RL on Tuesday that at a news briefing in Istanbul, Nalbandian and Babacan described their talks as “useful and constructive”.
“Meetings will be continued at different levels and an agreement was reached to continue joint efforts aimed at normalizing bilateral relations,” the spokesman added.