Türkiye’s National Football Team was pooled with Armenia along with Croatia, Wales and Latvia as the ten UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying groups have been confirmed following the draw in Frankfurt on October 9. The draw reminded a diplomatic phenomenon from back in 2008 as Armenia and Turkey had been pooled in the same group in the World Cup qualifiers, which paved a way for normalization efforts between the two countries.
The “football diplomacy” started after the World Cup qualifying draw brought two countries under the same group. Upon the invitation of the President of Armenia of the time, Serzh Sargsyan, Türkiye’s President of the time, Abdullah Gul, went to Armenia for the first game to be played on September 6, 2008. The score was a 2-0 for Türkiye’s victory. This was the first contact between Türkiye and Armenia at the highest level since 1993. Sarkisyan had also come to Bursa for the second game played in Türkiye on October 14, 2009, which resulted in with the same score, a victory for Türkiye.
Why didn’t football diplomacy work?
The first game triggered process of a dialogue which resulted a bilateral protocol to be signed 4 days before the second game, on October 10, by the foreign ministers of two countries, Ahmet Davutoğlu and Eduard Nalbandyan in order to normalize the relations between the two countries in Zurich, Switzerland. However, conditions were different. The protocol prompted reactions and protests both in Azerbaijan, where one-fifth of its territory was under Armenian occupation; and in Armenia by those who still do not want to accept its borders with Türkiye. The process was not advanced due to the increasing reactions in Turkey.
Today the situation is different. With the help of Turkey, Azerbaijan ended the occupation of its territory with the Karabakh War at the end of 2020.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was invited by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev as the guest of honor to the victory celebrations.
The trilateral meetings between Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with Russian President Vladimir Putin were followed by the announcement of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on 13 December 2021 that special representatives would be appointed for normalization. Subsequently, former Ambassador of Turkey to Washington Serdar Kılıç and Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Ruben Rubinyan were appointed as special representatives.
Will Erdogan go to Yerevan?
As a result of the meetings of the special representatives that started in Moscow and continued in other capitals, the two countries started to take small steps such as opening their land borders to third-country citizens and opening their airspaces to cargo transportation on July 1, 2022.
As a result of these developments, Erdoğan and Pashinyan met during the European Political Community meetings held in Prague on October 6, during an informal conversation in which Aliyev was also present. They also had pictures together.
Therefore, the fact that the National Football Teams of the two countries play against each other again in a football championship after thirteen years, may facilitate the normalization that has already begun this time.
It is not yet clear whether President Erdogan will go to Yerevan for this political football match, as the dates and schedules have not been announced yet. Likewise, whether Pashinyan will come to Turkey or not.
This will be determined by the conditions of that day and the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. For Yerevan, the road to Ankara still passes through Baku.