President Abdullah Gul of Turkey will visit Armenia this weekend for a soccer match.

In a major diplomatic step, President Abdullah Gul of Turkey will visit Armenia this weekend for a soccer match, his office said Wednesday. The countries have no diplomatic relations and their border has been closed for years.

Hostility between the nations stems from Turkey’s opposition to Armenian forces’ occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and from Armenia’s insistence that the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million ethnic Armenians under Ottoman rule be recognized as genocide. Turkey strongly denies the accusation of genocide during World War I and says that both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in the fighting.

The national teams of Armenia and Turkey will play in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on Saturday in a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup.

“We believe that this match will be instrumental in removing the barriers blocking the rapprochement between the two peoples with common history and prepare a new ground,” a statement on the president’s official Web site said.

“We hope that this will be an opportunity for the two peoples to understand each other better,” it added.

The Armenian president, Serzh Sarksyan, invited Gul to watch the match and called for closer ties with Turkey. Armenia is sandwiched between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

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