Former President Gül’s visit to Yerevan in 2008 was wrong, Erdoğan says
AP PhotoPresident Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reportedly disapproved of his predecessor’s visit to Armenia in 2008 as part of reconciliation efforts between the two countries, despite supporting the initiative at that time.
Former president Abdullah Gül had visited Yerevan in September 2008 to watch a football match between the two countries’ national teams, a move which was later called “the football diplomacy,” as Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan paid a visit to Turkey for the return match in October 2009.
Erdoğan’s surprising statement came May 7 at a luncheon with a group of academics and historians known for their expertise on the conflict between Turkey and Armenia over the 1915 incidents. Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mustafa Armağan, editor-in-chief of Deep History magazine, said, “I have observed criticism and reproach about Gül’s term. He [Erdoğan] emphasized moves like Gül’s visit to Yerevan to watch the football match gave an upper hand to the other side and paved the way for them to exert pressure on us.”
According to Armağan, Erdoğan argued Sargsyan’s return visit to Turkey did not yield a result, and said, “We cannot sort out anything by trying to lighten the mood.”
“There seems to be a misunderstanding,” former President Abdullah Gül told reporters May 8, upon questions on Erdoğan’s indirect criticisms to him.
Historian corrects his words
However, Mustafa Armağan corrected his statement May 8 after Gül described his words as a “misunderstanding.”
“Erdoğan did not say that Gül’s visit to Yerevan was wrong, but Armenia not responding to this step in the same way and in general Armenia’s approach has never been reconciliatory and therefore Turkey will take steps [towards Armenia] if a similar step is taken from the other side,” he told reporters.
Armağan also added that Erdoğan expressed Turkey will no longer be in a position to seek a reconciliation over genocide claims.
Although Erdoğan disapproved of the mentioned initiatives, his position on such visits at that time was different. According to newspapers dated Sept. 4, 2008, Erdoğan had expressed his approval of Gül’s visit to Yerevan.
“I find, too, this visit positive. Returning such an invitation would cause a process in which a national match would be made an instrument for politics. Therefore our president’s decision blocked such a thing. Because sports are different, politics is different. Of course, after the match, these [political] things will also be discussed but if we believe in ourselves, in our views then I believe there is no meaning of running away from the table, from these kinds of encounters,” he had said.
Gül and Sargsyan were key figures in the now-stalled rapprochement process between the estranged neighbors. The process began with Sargsyan’s invitation to Gül to an Armenia-Turkey World Cup qualifying football match in Yerevan in 2008. The two countries have never had diplomatic relations, and Ankara closed its border with Yerevan in 1993 because of its war with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In October 2009, Armenian and Turkish officials initiated the protocols to normalize the relations between the two countries. However, the protocols have not been ratified since then and have faced immense criticism in both countries.
The protocols, which call for the establishment of diplomatic ties and the reopening of the shared border, also called for a joint commission to examine the two countries’ shared history.