Armenia, Turkey: A Politically Meaningful Soccer Match
3 MINS READOct 14, 2009 | 14:29 GMT
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
As of the time of this writing, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian had landed in Bursa, Turkey, to attend a World Cup qualifying soccer game between his country and Turkey. Sarkisian is the first Armenian leader to visit Turkey since 1999. The symbolic trip comes just four days after Turkey and Armenia signed a set of protocols meant to lead to a resumption of relations between the two countries — much to the dismay of Azerbaijan. Sarkisian had initially vowed to not attend the match unless Turkey went ahead and opened its borders with Armenia in accordance with the second part of the protocols signed, but not yet ratified by each government's parliaments. The protocols still face many roadblocks. But Sarkisian's very attendance at the soccer match is highly controversial in Turkey, back at home in Armenia and also in Azerbaijan. The following is STRATFOR's guidance:
Sarkisian is expected to attend a dinner with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, attend a soccer match with him and then go to a reception in Armenia's honor. We need to watch every statement from the two leaders, even though they both have sworn not politicize the soccer match. Also, we need to watch if Sarkisian stays for all of the planned events, given the great pressure on him to leave.
With the borders between Turkey and Armenia still closed, many in the Armenian government are viewing Sarkisian's trip as a betrayal of the process of ratifying the protocols before restoring relations with Turkey. With the government already fracturing over the protocol signing, we need to keep a close watch on the stability of the state and watch for very vocal dissent against Sarkisian.
Any reaction by Baku to Sarkisian's trip must be taken seriously. Azerbaijan has a delegation in Ankara meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Baku has lodged its complaints against any formal reconciliation between Ankara and Yerevan, though its plans for retaliation are not quite clear yet.
Finally, the security situation at the soccer game is of great concern. According to STRATFOR sources, fans arrived at the stadium to see pro-Azerbaijani stickers littering the streets. Also, 15,000 Azerbaijani flags have reportedly been distributed by Turkish trade unions in order for Turkey to show solidarity with Baku and not Yerevan. With attendance at the soccer game expected to exceed 19,000, the tension among fans could go beyond mere soccer hooliganism and turn into actual riots, posing a real security concern.