Turkey, Armenia Engage in ‘Football Diplomacy’

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.

Turkish reports put a positive spin on the so-called "midnight diplomacy." Contentious issues such as the genocide question were never brought up, and while Sarkisian did speak passionately about Nagorno-Karabakh, an issue that's taken on added significance to Turkey since Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the meeting still generated momentum for the upcoming three-party talks between Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan at the U.N. General Assembly Meeting on Sept. 23.

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