By Emil Danielyan
Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul has accepted his Armenian counterpart’s invitation to pay a historic visit to Armenia that could improve the historically strained relations between the two nations, Turkish officials and media said at the weekend.
Citing diplomatic sources in Ankara, the Turkish newspaper “Vatan” reported on Saturday that Gul has decided to arrive in Yerevan to watch the September 6 match between Armenia’s and Turkey’s national football teams. The paper said the decision was made upon the recommendation of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Gul did not confirm the report during an official reception in Ankara on Saturday. “I am still evaluating. I have not made a decision yet,” he was reported to tell journalists.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated that the trip will take place. "I hope it will be good," Erdogan said, according to the Anatolia news agency. “Our foreign minister will accompany [Gul] and a meeting will take place there,” he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan announced on Sunday that he is sending a diplomatic delegation to Yerevan to discuss with Armenian officials practical modalities of what would be the first-ever visit to Armenia by a Turkish head of state. "A delegation from my ministry will travel to Armenia in the course of the coming week to discuss the form of a possible visit by the head of state," Babacan told a news conference in Istanbul.
A diplomatic source told RFE/RL on Monday that the Turkish delegation will be headed by Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Unal Cevikoz and will arrive in Yerevan on Tuesday morning. The source said the delegation could comprise Turkish security officials planning to assess security measures that would be taken by the Armenian authorities in the event of Gul’s arrival.
According to Babacan, the Turkish officials will also explore the Armenian government’s reaction to Ankara proposal to form a regional cooperation framework that would bring together Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Turkish leaders have already discussed the proposed Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform with their Russian, Georgian and Azerbaijani counterparts.
Erdogan reiterated on Saturday that he would like Armenia to be part of the regional alliance despite the fact that it has no diplomatic relations with Turkey. “Why is Armenia included in this, why is Georgia included in this? Because we chose [them] for inclusion [in the platform] on a geographic basis. We have to succeed in this so that the region will become a region of welfare and ease," he said, according to Anatolia.
The Erdogan government offered to embark on a “dialogue” with Yerevan shortly after Serzh Sarkisian was sworn in as Armenia’s new president in early April. Sarkisian responded positively to the offer before extending the surprise invitation to his Turkish counterpart in June. The move was followed by confidential Turkish-Armenian negotiations in Switzerland on the possibility of normalizing bilateral ties.
In an interview with the Turkish daily “Radikal” last week, Sarkisian said the two governments “have reached the decision-making phase” in their dialogue. “Those will not be easy decisions,” he said. “Those decisions will not be approved by the entire publics in Armenia and Turkey. But I am sure the majority of the publics will support positive decisions.” The Armenian leader did not elaborate.
Turkey has until now made the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of its border with Armenia conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. It has also demanded an end to the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Whether Ankara is now ready to drop these preconditions remains unclear.
“The Turkish Daily News” on Monday quoted an unnamed Turkish official as saying that Gul’s visit to Yerevan would not signify any changes in Turkey’s long-standing policy toward Armenia. “This visit will have no impact on our policies,' the official said.