YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Abdullah Gul will face protests the moment he arrives in Yerevan and hear calls for Turkey to recognize the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide during the football match which he is due to attend on Saturday, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation said on Thursday.
ARF leaders gave details of their planned demonstrations against the first-ever visit to Armenia by a Turkish president the day after its official confirmation by Ankara.
According to Armen Rustamian, the chairman of the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia, the demonstrations will start at Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport where Gul is scheduled to arrive on Saturday morning. He said thousands of ARF supporters will rally there before flocking to the Hrazdan stadium where they will chant genocide recognition slogans during the match. In the meantime, another crowd of activists will march to the genocide memorial on the nearby Dzidzerbagapert hill to light torches in memory of more than one million Ottoman Armenia’s slaughtered between 1915 and 1923, he told journalists.
“There is so much bizarre enthusiasm surrounding all this at the social level that one might think we are to greet our missing brother,” said Rustamian.
Rustamian, who is also the chairman of the parliamentary commission on foreign affairs said the ARF will press ahead with the planned protests to show the world that Turkish-Armenian reconciliation is impossible without the recognition of the mass killings of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
Giro Manoyan, the ARF’s political director, said failure to stage such protests would allow the Turks to claim that genocide recognition has lost its urgency for the people of Armenia. “We will express our political stance in a normal and acceptable way,” he said.
Rustamian added that the ARF has discussed the planned actions with President Serzh Sarkisian and that the he is not unhappy with them. “There is a full understanding on the issue between us and the president,” he said.
“We believe our president will understand and our people will participate,” Manoyan said.
The Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) has said that local soccer fans will be banned from bringing genocide-related and “political” banners to the 53,000-seat stadium. The FFA also controversially changed the Armenian team’s emblem last month. Its new logo no longer depicts the biblical Mount Ararat, which has been located in northeastern since the Genocide. Mount Ararat is the national symbol of Armenia’s.
The FFA insists that the emblem change was not politically motivated. But Rustamian cast doubt on the credibility of these assurances, saying that it would be “shameful” if the federation thereby tried to please the Turks.
Sarkisian and his predecessors have stood for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and reopening the land border between the two neighboring states.
Manoyan reiterated on Thursday that the ARF believes an open border with Turkey would not necessarily be good for the Armenian economy. “Unless we are internally prepared, that border may also have negative consequences,” he said, pointing to the possible consequences of an influx of cheep Turkish goods and labor into the Armenian market.
Manoyan also stressed the importance of genocide recognition in any Turkish-Armenian dialogue. “It’s not a precondition for starting relations,” he said. “But relations can not be normalized if Turkey fails to recognize the genocide.”