September last year, Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul breaks the ice becoming the first Turkish head of state to visit Armenia – invited by his counterpart Serge Sarkisian to watch Turkey take on Armenia in a football match.
Gul’s visit sparked contrasting reactions among Armenians. For some, it remained impossible to forget the country’s bitter dispute over the deaths of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire during the first world war. However, others hailed the visit. When questioned, one bystander said: “I don’t care at all who wins. What is important is the arrival of the Turkish president, the first time in our history. It will help resolve the political problems, and it may bring fruits in the future.” The town of Igdir in Turkey next to the Armenian border is overshadowed not only by Mount Ararat but also by History. There, a monument stands as a reminder of those Turks killed by Armenians during and after the first world war. Goksel Gulbeyi, president of the association that refutes the Armenian genocide, said: “In Igdir there are still living witnesses who tell their descendants about the killings by Armenians here. There are people here who still feel resentment.” For some the possibility of recognising the deaths of more than a million Armenians between 1915-17 as genocide remains out of the question. They oppose any opening of the border with Armenia. That was closed in 1993 when Turkey supported its historical ally Azerbaijan after fighting broke out with Armenian-backed seperatists in the volitile Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But in the Turkish town of Kars, there are hopes the border with Armenia will open. The head of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, Ali Guvensoy, says he wants an end to the age-old dispute. “We want peace. I went to Armenia and I was received very well. We show them hospitality when they come here. I think it would be good for our economy and trade.” But Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains cautious, having pledged in front of parliament to defuse tensions in Nargorno Karabakh before concluding any deal with Armenia.