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More than game

“We don’t usually watch other soccer games than in the Portuguese league here” the waiter said to a man with a fancy colored soccer-hat, who was sitting and enjoying his beer on the bar table. “But some people wanted to watch Turkey-Armenia game” he continued. “I heard they were doing soccer peace”

Just days after Turkey and Armenia signed a historic accord to restore relations after decades of hostility; the two countries faced each other on the football pitch. They met in a World Cup qualifying game on October 14 when the Armenian side travels to Bursa in Turkey, and although both sides are out of the running for the 2010 finals, the game is seen as an important further step in restoring relations.

Five university students with a mix of Turkish and Armenian backgrounds meet at Casa do Benfica da Nova in Cambridge. Two of them are two young women who never watched a full-time soccer game before, much less one with so much significance. It was early in the afternoon and most of them should be at school. However, the rareness of the soccer game obliged them to ask their professors for a “soccer match permit”.

However, in some cases, it is more complicated than just having the permit. Both groups agreed to keeping their names and universities anonymous because none of them dared to tell their people about sharing the company of the other group to watch the match. Moreover, the “soccer peace” has its silent limits, too: Both parties hesitate to make a comment when TV screen focused, only minutes before the kick-off, a bunch of doves are released as sign of peace in the stadium or on the Turkish and Armenian presidents who are smiling at each other and sitting at the box seats side by side.

Clocks stroke 2 pm in Boston and 9 pm in Bursa, the game started with great applause in the bar. In fact, the two groups start talking little by little about weather, studies, food shops in Boston and soccer player’s backgrounds as if nothing happened in their past backgrounds.

The parties’ distanced attitude towards each other and to media is understandable, considering the decades of conflict situation between Turkish and Armenian peoples.

The Turkish-Armenian conflict dates back to the early 20th century, when the two peoples were living under Ottoman rule. The rise of Turkish and Armenian nationalism during the dissolution period of the Ottoman Empire and World War One caused many tragedies in the Anatolian region. The denomination of common violent past between Turkish and Armenian peoples is one of the biggest problems transmitted to the present: The opinion of the Armenian side is that it should be called as “genocide”, whereas the Turkish side is generally insisting on naming it a “mutual mass killing”.

Another big problem is that Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan, which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists in the breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Since then, all diplomatic relations between two countries were suspended.

“We are here to see the match together”, one from the Armenian side said at the end of first half time when Turkey was 2-0 ahead. “A soccer game has nothing to do with conflict”.

Actually it did. Fortunately, neither of the sides knew about the “Football” War between El Salvador and Honduras. It was a four-day war in 1969 when the existing tensions between the two countries coincided with the inflamed rioting during the second North American qualifying round for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. On 14 July 1969, right after the game, the Salvadoran army launched an attack against Honduras. The war only lasted 4 days, but the consequence was grave: Both sides of the Football War suffered extensive casualties. Some 300,000 Salvadorans were displaced due to the battle.

Nevertheless, soccer’s role was effectively peacemaking this time: A thaw in relations has been taking place since September 2008, when the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, visited the Armenian capital Yerevan to watch a football match between the two countries.

“Soccer is the world’s most popular sport” said one from the Turkish side. “So it is both in Turkey and Armenia.”

As the match continued towards the end, there was a remarkable change in two groups’ attitudes. More smiling faces, attempts to learn how to toast in Turkish and Armenian, exchanging e-mail addresses were to first signs of a future friendship.

In the end, Turkey has defeated Armenia in a historic World Cup football match. Neither team could qualify to the World Cup, but the game came just days after the two countries agreed to establish diplomatic ties and reopen their shared border.

The Turkish and Armenian groups went back to school without having any dispute. However, both of them knew what it takes to start a dialogue, feeling the cold breeze of the past events behind their neck. The sunny days are still a little ahead.


Title: The “Armenian Genocide” Dispute

The mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I remains a highly sensitive issue. Turkey has resisted widespread calls for it to recognize the 1915-16 killings as genocide, while historians continue to argue about the events.

What happened?

There is general agreement that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died when the Ottoman Turks deported them en masse from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian Desert and elsewhere in 1915-16. They were killed or died from starvation or disease.

The total number of Armenian dead is disputed. Armenians say 1.5 million died. The Republic of Turkey estimates the total to be 300,000.

What is genocide?

Article Two of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948 describes genocide as carrying out acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Were the killings systematic?

The dispute about whether it was genocide centers on the question of premeditation – the degree to which the killings were orchestrated.

Many historians, governments and the Armenian people believe that they were; but a significant number of scholars question this.

Turkish officials accept that atrocities were committed but argue that there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people. Turkey says many innocent Muslim Turks also died in the turmoil of war.

Who recognizes it as genocide and who does not?

Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay are among more than 20 countries which have formally recognized genocide against the Armenians.

The European Parliament and the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities have also done so.

The UK, USA and Israel are among those that use different terminology to describe the events.

In 2006 Turkey condemned a French parliamentary vote which would make it a crime to deny that Armenians had suffered genocide. The bill did not become law – but Turkey suspended military ties.

Turkey also urged the US government in 2007 to block a US Congress move to recognize the Armenian “genocide”. The US House Foreign Affairs Committee later shelved the bill.

Source: BBC

About the Contributor
Barış Munyakmaz served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Managing Editor: 2010-2011 Culture & Diversity Editor: 2009-2010