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Turkey, Armenia Engage in 'Football Diplomacy'

Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008

In what has been heralded by Armenian and Turkish diplomats as "football diplomacy," Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan joined Armenian President Serge Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandian earlier this month to watch the two nations' teams play a World Cup qualifying match in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. The face-to-face meeting, the first ever since Armenia became an independent nation in 1991, removed "a key psychological barrier" that has existed between the two nations and was a clear first step forward in the process of reconciliation between the two neighbors.

Turkey closed the border with its eastern neighbor in 1993 to protest the independence claims of the ethnically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in territorial Azerbaijan. Armenian efforts to garner international recognition of the 1915 Armenian massacres as "genocide" have also deepened the mutual suspicions both countries harbor towards one another. But the strained relations have weakened the position of both nations economically, politically and socially in the ever critical South Caucasus region. ...

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