President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision on whether or not visit Turkey in October is “irrelevant” to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, a top representative of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Monday.
Sarkisian has been invited by his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to watch with him the return match of the two countries’ national teams to be played in the Turkish city of Bursa on October 14. He made clear last month that he will accept the invitation only if Ankara takes “real steps” to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border.
Commenting on the matter, Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, said that Sarkisian has committed “irreversible mistakes” in his policy of rapprochement with Turkey welcomed by the West but strongly criticized by Armenian opposition groups.
“Those mistakes can not be rectified by his going or not going to Turkey,” he told RFE/RL. “In that sense, his decision won’t solve anything.”
The HAK’s top leader, President Levon Ter-Petrosian, and his close associates have repeatedly denounced Sarkisian’s policy on Turkey as a gross failure. Like Ter-Petrosian, Zurabian pointed to Ankara’s continuing refusal to unconditionally normalize relations with Yerevan despite Sarkisian’s apparent acceptance of a Turkish proposal to form a joint commission that would look into the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Zurabian also reiterated the HAK’s condemnation of a joint statement issued by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries ahead of the 94th anniversary of those killings marked on April 24. The statement is believed to have made it easier for U.S. President Barack Obama to renege on his pledge to officially term the massacres genocide.
While agreeing with this criticism, some leading members of the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition have urged Sarkisian to visit Turkey. “If President Sarkisian avoids the return match in Turkey, then he will make a serious mistake,” one of them, David Shahnazarian, said in an interview with the “Hurriyet Daily News” newspaper published on Sunday.
“First of all, he will complicate the Armenian position in the eyes of the international community. And more important, the normalization talks will face the threat of freezing,” said Shahnazarian.
Another prominent oppositionist, former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian, also made a case for the continuation of the Turkish-Armenian “football diplomacy” at a news conference in Yerevan earlier this month.