Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian insisted on Tuesday that he will not travel to Turkey in October to watch the return match of the two countries’ national football teams unless Ankara moves to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul extended a relevant invitation to Sarkisian after paying a historic visit to Yerevan in September last year, during which the two leaders jointly attended the first Turkey-Armenia game. The so-called “football diplomacy” ushered in a Turkish-Armenia rapprochement that left the two historical foes on the verge of normalizing their strained relations earlier this year.
“Given the existing situation, we certainly expect to witness soon constructive steps with which our [Turkish] partners would try to create a proper environment for the return visit of the president of Armenia,” said Sarkisian. That means taking “real steps” to honor Turkish-Armenian agreements reached during the year-long dialogue, he said.
“That is, I will leave for Turkey if we have an open border or stand on the brink of the lifting of Armenia’s blockade,” added the Armenian leader.
The remarks reflected Sarkisian’s frustration with Turkey’s failure so far to unconditionally establish diplomatic relations and reopen its border with Armenia despite concessions made by him. Yerevan insists that the Turks dropped their preconditions for normalizing bilateral ties during months of fence-mending negotiations.
However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have repeatedly said in recent months that the Turkish-Armenian border will remain closed as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. The statements came both before and after the Turkish and Armenian governments’ April 22 announcement that they have identified a “roadmap” to the normalization.
The announcement came on the eve of the annual remembrance of more than one million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War One. The timing is believed to have made it easier for U.S. President Barack Obama to backtrack on his pledges to officially recognize the massacres as genocide.
Critics accuse Sarkisian of willingly sacrificing U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide without securing the lifting of the 16-year Turkish blockade. They have also condemned his apparent acceptance of a Turkish proposal to form a panel of historians that would look into the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Sarkisian issued his latest warning to Ankara after talks with Serbia’s visiting President Boris Tadic. He said he briefed Tadic on his Western-backed diplomatic overtures to Turkey.
Sarkisian said the two leaders agreed on the need for a peaceful resolution of ethnic disputes in the Balkans and the South Caucasus “in accordance with the principles and norms of international law.” “We believe that there are no universal ways of solving conflicts,” he told reporters. “Every conflict has its own history, causes and its own unique course.”
It was an apparent rejection of parallels between the conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo, a breakaway Serbian region that has been recognized as an independent state by much of the international community. Kosovo’s secession in strong support for the principle of territorial integrity voiced by Serbian leaders.
Tadic himself has called for the application of that principle to the Karabakh dispute in the past. With journalists not allowed to put questions to either president, it was not clear if he stands by that statement.
Also, Serbia was one of the few European nations that voted in March 2008 for a UN General Assembly resolution that upheld Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh and demanded an “unconditional” Armenian withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani territories.