SOCCER DIPLOMACY BETWEEN ARMENIA AND TURKEY -- (House of Representatives - September 09, 2008)
Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to congratulate Armenia and its President on the historic soccer match between Armenia and Turkey this past weekend. On July 9, President Serge Sargisian and the ``Wall Street Journal,'' Europe edition took a surprising and historic step by inviting President Gul of Turkey to sit with him and watch the two nations play the World Cup qualifier match in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
In an effort to warm relations between the two countries, President Sargisian wrote, ``Just as the people of China and the United States shared enthusiasm for ping pong before their governments fully normalized relations, the people of Armenia and Turkey are united in their love for football.''
President Gul accepted the offer, and on Saturday, September 6, he became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia.
Armenia initiated soccer diplomacy with Turkey despite nearly a century of Turkish genocide denial and 15 years of an economic blockade. For years, Armenia has been ready to establish relations with Turkey without preconditions, and President Sargisian's recent efforts reinforced this commitment. President Gul must also be commended for his efforts to see past the opposition of some in his country by attending the match.
With the recent violence between Russia and Georgia, further steps to promote stability in the Caucasus must be taken, and strengthening Armenian and Turkish relations is essential to these efforts.
Turkey can strengthen its relationship with Armenia by ending its policy of genocide denial, a policy that is imposed both globally and domestically. Turkey should lift all restrictions imposed by section 301 of the Turkish Penal Code on individuals who study, discuss, or recognize the Armenian genocide. Silencing academics and writers limits freedom of speech and makes any serious discussion of the Armenian genocide within Turkey taboo.
To improve relations, Turkey must also lift its stifling economic blockade on Armenia. The State Department estimates that the blockade inflates Armenia by 30 to 35 percent. Removing the blockade will enable the development of immediate infrastructure projects and regional communications, energy, and transportation in the Caucasus. The removal of the blockade would also do much to catalyze global investment in Turkey and Armenia.
With the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia, Armenia proved itself to be a constructive partner to Georgia. The Armenian government provided safe transit for U.S. and international officials and thousands of Georgia nationals and nongovernmental organization representatives.
But Armenia experienced significant economic distress due to the conflict between Georgia and Russia. The country lost an estimated $650 million and shortages in fuel and wheat were rampant. With renewed volatility in the Caucasus, Armenia can no longer afford to suffer from dual blockades.
President Sargisian's initiation of soccer diplomacy and President Gul's reciprocal invitation to watch a game next year in Turkey is a positive breakthrough in a region of historic violence and tense emotions.
As President Sargisian wrote, ``A more prosperous, mutually beneficial future for Armenia and Turkey, and the opening up of a historic East-West corridor for Europe, the Caspian region and the rest of the world, are goals that we can and must achieve.''
Mr. Speaker, let me just say as a Congressman and speaking for all Members of Congress, we must do all that we can to support these efforts to bring Armenia and Turkey together. It may seem that a soccer match is not that significant, but it is very significant. No Turkish leader has ever visited Armenia before. So I want to commend this occasion and hope that it leads to more of further developments and relations between the two countries.