ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
While it is still unclear whether Turkish President Abdullah Gül will accept his Armenian counterpart's invitation to watch a football game together in Yerevan, Armenia has decided on Thursday to unilaterally lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens for the week of the game.
The Armenian government approved the idea launched by Armenia's chief of police, Alik Sargsyan, to temporarily lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens to facilitate their entry to the country to watch the Turkey-Armenia FIFA World Cup qualifying match Sept. 6. �The adoption of the project is important for the football fans to be present at their favorites' meeting,� Sargsyan was quoted as saying by news portal Panorama.am on Friday.
Turkish citizens will be free to enter Armenia without any visa requirements Sept. 1 to 6. When asked by the Armenian prime minister whether it was too early to start free entry Sept. 1, Sargsyan said over 20,000 Turks were expected to visit Armenia for the match and they would probably want to tour the city for a couple of days before the game.
Armenia and Turkey were put into the same European group of the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and are scheduled to play each other in Yerevan and Istanbul. The two teams have never faced each other before.
The Football Federation of Armenia said Thursday, however, that it has still not been approached by the Turkish Football Federation, which is supposed to distribute game tickets in Turkey, according to Web site Armenian Liberty. �We still have no information about how many Turkish football fans would like to attend the game,� the FFA's executive director, Armen Minasian, was quoted as saying. �We have received no applications from the Turkish Football Federation yet,� he said.
Ankara has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia since its independence in 1991 because of Armenian efforts to secure international recognition of the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide.
Despite a long history of frozen relations, the latest developments led to questions about whether there was a thaw developing between the two countries. Last month it was revealed that Turkish and Armenian diplomats held secret negotiations to discuss normalization of ties in Switzerland. Although both Gül and President Serge Sarkisian downplayed the significance of the secret talks, it is the closest the two countries have come to establishing normal ties.