Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Football Diplomacy Helps Turkey And Armenia Move On

The presidents of Turkey and Armenia will tonight attend a World Cup qualifying match between the countries. Nothing unusual about that on the face of it, until you consider the bitterness which has existed between the two peoples since hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed by Turkey's predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, during and just after the First World War. Whether or not the killings can be called a genocide is one of many contentious issues which is still unresolved, but the good news is that both nations are at last moving forward politically.

A deal was recently agreed so Turkey and Armenia could finally establish diplomatic ties, and allowing the border between the countries to be re-opened. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was there to witness the signing of the accord, and no wonder, because the surprisingly large Armenian population of her own country (the Armenian diaspora is one of the world's most widely spread, partly because of the killings) has put plenty of pressure on Congress and forced the issue onto her agenda. Although many Armenians around the world were bitterly disappointed the deal didn't include a Turkish admission of genocide, there are plenty within Armenia itself who will now have opportunities that didn't exist before it was signed.

As is so often the case, this diplomacy comes down to money. Armenia is a poor country, and is right next to Turkey, which is the world's 17th largest economy. Armenian businessmen want to leave the past in the past and get on with trading with their neighbour and, through it, the world. The Turks meanwhile want to join the EU one day, and know that would not be possible without better relations with the Armenians. These economic and political forces have been helped along by the apparent personal chemistry between the two presidents, who first appeared together at last year's qualifier between the two nations in Armenia. That started the final round of diplomacy which has led to the deal and could, in time, help bring Turkey and Armenia closer to the rest of Europe.

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