The Armenian leader reiterated his earlier statements that he will not travel to Turkey in October to watch the match of the two countries’ national soccer 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 Armenia-Turkey game. The so-called ‘soccer diplomacy’ ushered in a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement that left the two historical foes on the verge of normalizing their strained relations earlier this year.
Sarkisian’s remarks reflect the growing frustration of the Armenian political leadership with Turkey’s failure so far to unconditionally establish diplomatic relations and reopen its border with Armenia. Yerevan insists that the Turks drop their preconditions for normalizing bilateral ties that apparently include Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan in the settlement of the long-running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and an end to the Armenian campaign for the world governments to recognize World War I-era killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.
The fence-mending process between Yerevan and Ankara hailed by the international community resulted in the signing of a ‘roadmap’ to normalizing bilateral ties in April. Yet, in recent months, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have said that the Turkish-Armenian border will remain closed as long as the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region remains unresolved.
The Turkish rhetoric has led some political circles in Armenia, notably the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation party, to call for an end to negotiations with Turkey. Sarkisian has also been urged not to go to Turkey unless Ankara gives a clear indication that it is still ready to normalize relations without preconditions.
Some six weeks before the return match in Turkey, which is scheduled for October 14, Sarkisian told the BBC: “I repeat what I’ve already stated twice, i.e. I will go to Turkey to attend the soccer game if our border is already open, or if we are close to that. That is, if the Turks respect our arrangements, this will be one thing, if they don’t, this will be a different thing.”
“Our desire remains the same – to establish relations without any preconditions,” added Sarkisian.
To the BBC’s question whether Armenians were ready for concessions by dropping their longstanding claims that the Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians constituted genocide, Sarkisian said: “Of course, it is very important, it is important for our people, important for Turkey and the whole world. It is important that historical justice be restored, it is important that our nations manage to establish normal relations and, finally, it is important that such things should not recur in the future. However, we do not view genocide recognition as a precondition.”
The Armenian leader, however, stopped short of describing this stance as a ‘compromise’.
“It is not the case when one can talk about a compromise. We say – yes, there was genocide, and no matter whether Turkey today admits that or not, this is a fact that is recognized by all specialists on genocides in the world; it is recognized by many countries of the world. But in current conditions, we do not view it as a precondition for establishing relations with the Turks,” he said.