ANKARA: Gul’s Historical Opportunity At Han

Gokhan Bacik

Today’s Zaman
July 29 2008

President Abdullah Gul should go and watch the soccer game in
Yerevan-Armenia. This visit will serve as a historical threshold in
Turkish-Armenian relations thanks to the symbolic meanings that it
will inherently have and generate in later stages.

What needs to be remembered is this: If the countries are unable to
get together even for a soccer game, it means that the meaning of
not only politics but also life itself has been eroded.

The Armenian administration’s invitation extended to President Abdullah
Gul to watch a soccer game between Armenia and Turkey to be played in
Yerevan is an important opportunity in all respects. The invitation
may initiate a process that will provide important opportunities
for Turkey. President Gul will assume a historical responsibility by
making a decision on whether to accept or reject the invitation. Gul’s
acceptance of the invitation to watch a soccer game in Yerevan will
undoubtedly cause a historical breakthrough in relations between
Turkey and Armenia.

First of all, heading to Yerevan to watch a soccer game is not
something that can be criticized or at the very least attracts little
criticism. Sports is the most innocent and uncontroversial issue
when compared to other matters in bilateral relations. President
Gul will not go to Yerevan to sign a strategic agreement or to
pursue cooperation in the energy field. President Gul’s visit has one
specific, simple and functional goal: to watch a soccer game. Besides,
is there anything more natural than for a president to watch a game
being played by the national team? The president is the highest-level
representative of the nation. It does not seem possible to think that a
Turkish president should go to Yerevan for a reason that is as nearly
as natural and undisputable as watching a soccer game. Therefore,
the national soccer game has become a very important opportunity. The
game offers the opportunity of getting together in a political platform
to both parties.

Secondly, with this visit, Turkey will take the initiative on the
global platform in regards to Turkish-Armenian relations. Turkey used
to look as if it was an actor that took only the second steps and
was unable to determine the process in a number of issues, including
the Cyprus issue, a territorial conflict between the Republic of
Cyprus and Turkey over the island. However, Turkish foreign policy
has become a determinative actor recently in those issues. Turkey has
become a country that is able to offer new alternatives and proposals
which shake the status quo and fulfill these alternatives. This
transformation has changed Turkey’s policies towards Greece, Syria and
the EU, making the country a truly regional power. This also applies
to relations with Armenia. Turkey has gotten rid of its longstanding
ineptness by which it used to defend itself all the time. President
Gul’s acceptance of the invitation to watch the soccer game in Yerevan
will be a strong contribution to this process. In this way, Turkey will
reinforce its image as a country that is eager to resolve its problems
rather than generate problems. Turkey will be perceived in the world
as an actor that is ready to confront with and resolve the problems.

Integration with international system imperative

Thirdly, Turkey’s democratization is closely related to its
integration with the international system. One of the tools which
the circles uneasy with Turkey’s democratization rely on is to keep
the country isolated from the system. For the masses, which hold
a rigid view inclusive of an anti-EU stance, opposition to foreign
capital, strong emphasis on preservation of status quo in Cyprus,
this isolation provides a fertile political environment. To create
a Turkey disintegrated with the world is the biggest desire of the
circles opposed to democracy. This will further generate an environment
for that country where the mafia, gangs and crime organizations such
as Ergenekon will be influential. Causing serious troubles through
issues like Cyprus and Armenia and subsequently exploiting these
issues to ensure Turkish people’s disintegration with the world is
the political goal of these circles. For this reason, the political
elites seeking democratization have to deal with issues such as
the Armenian question and Cyprus, issues which have turned Turkey
into an insular nation. From this perspective, Turkey’s attempt to
normalize its relations with Armenia is vital for Turkey’s internal
transformation. The logic behind the murder of renowned Armenian
intellectual by gangs that have different considerations in Turkey
should be read well. From this perspective, President Gul’s visit
to Yerevan to watch a game will have a huge psychological impact on
such groups.

Another important issue is the importance of this issue for the
Armenians living in Turkey. There is a small Armenian population
in Turkey, yet this small group is important in terms of our
historical inheritance. No matter what, Armenians are part of our
history. However, Armenians remained silent because they were
intimidated by growing nationalism and sometimes had to leave
Turkey, their home for centuries. In a country where a leader of
a terror organization that kills even the babies is labeled as the
"offspring of Armenians" in an attempt to insult him, they had to live
as Armenians. Now, Turkey and its rulers have to remember this. The
system called Turkey has to belong to Armenians on equal terms along
with everybody else, including the president. If President Gul goes
to Yerevan to watch the soccer game, he will make contribution to
the lives of Armenians in Turkey who suffered a great deal in their
daily lives. From this perspective, President Gul has to consider
the daily concerns and expectations of the Armenians living in Turkey
in addition to the big notions like international politics, strategy
and national interest when making his decision.

President Gul has to go to Yerevan to watch the soccer game. This
visit will be a historical turning point in Turkish-Armenian
relations because of the symbolic meanings it inherently has and will
subsequently generate.

*Assistant Professor Dr. Gökhan Bacık is an instructor at Fatih

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