September 3, 2008 - 20:21 AMT
TDN: Gul preparing to go to Yerevan with hopes of breakthrough in frozen relations with Armenia
Turkish President Abdullah Gul is preparing to go to Yerevan with hopes of a breakthrough in frozen relations with Armenia. The two countries have no official diplomatic ties, and whether the visit will open the way to a normalization of relations, depends on how the Turkish President is received in Yerevan, Barcin Yinanc writes in her article in the Turkish Daily News.

"Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's invitation to watch the football game on Saturday was a gesture of good-will, rather than part of a careful strategy, in the eyes of Turkish officials. However, making a cost-benefit analysis of whether to go or not, is based on strategic interests rather than good-will alone, as far as Ankara is concerned. "Saying no would mean that Turkey is closed to dialogue. It would create the image that it cannot even tolerate an initiative based on a humanitarian framework like football," said a high-level Turkish official. The Turkish government also believes that Armenia wants to improve its relations with Turkey and seeks progress in secret direct-talks, initiated after Sargsyan's election as president last April.

The recent tension in the Caucasus is an additional reason for Gul's likely acceptance of the invitation. The fact that Russia has increased its area of maneuverability in the region has prompted Turkey to propose a new regional mechanism; the Caucasian Stability and Co-operation Pact. With this initiative, Turkey believes that it assumes a role on an equal standing with Russia, which has become more and more assertive in the region. The absence of dialogue with Armenia would have dealt a serious blow to the credibility and efficiency of the initiative.

But more importantly, the visit, if it takes place, might bring a significant change in Turkey's policy of isolating Armenia. The Turkish decision-makers seem to have come to the conclusion that isolating Armenia through exclusion from multi-regional co-operation schemes, like the energy corridors, has pushed Armenia into the hands of the Russians. In the recent course of events Turkey is keen to avoid polarization, with Russia and Armenia on one side, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia on the other.

The talks between the two presidents might change the course of relations between the two countries. If Gul goes to Yerevan, no doubt he will not just talk about the performance of the players during the game. Certainly he will first talk about Turkey's regional initiative. Next on the agenda will be the future of direct talks. The two might then also talk about the issue of Nargorno Karabakh

"The visit to Yerevan should not be perceived as a change in our policy towards Nagorno Karabakh or Azerbaijan," said a Turkish official. Although Azerbaijan is not happy about the visit, it has nevertheless never told the Turkish side not to go, according to the same official," the article says.