Meanwhile, in Armenia, football

Well, and also Turkish President Abdullah Gul is coming to visit.

It’s hard to overstate how bizarre and awesome this is. But first, some context. This visit is happening because of three things: football, local politics, and war.

First, the football. (Americans may want to skip the next few paragraphs.)

Over a year ago,Armenia and Turkey both got picked to be in Group 5 (Europe) for the 2010 World Cup.

Brief summary for Americans: the World Cup is every four years. About 170 countries want to be in it, but there are only 31 slots. So for the next two years, that 170 will get relentlessly whittled down.

Those 31 slots? One is for the host country (South Africa) and the others are divided by region. So, Europe gets 13 slots, Asia gets five, and so forth. There are 53 European countries competing for those 13 slots. So, those 53 teams have just been divided into nine qualifying groups – eight of six teams and one of five. The winners of each European group will qualify for the World Cup finals, and the best eight runners-up will play off for the other four berths.

It’s complicated, but basically fair — the draw for the qualifying groups is totally random. This can lead to interestingly weird situations, such as the occasional “Group of Death” when three excellent teams are squeezed together. And in this case, it’s put Turkey and Armenia — who don’t have diplomatic relations and who, to put it nicely, don’t much like each other — in the same group.

The odds of this were about one in ten (once Armenia was drawn for Group 5, what were the chances of Turkey being in that group too? Five other slots in the group, 52 other countries — 5/52, or about 9.8%), so it’s not that surprising. But it means Armenia and Turkey have to play each other twice, once at home, and once away. The first of those two games is this weekend, in Armenia.

So: a year ago, Armenia discovered it had to either suck it up and host the Turks, or forfeit the games. The previous Armenian administration — President Robert Kocharian — sucked it up, albeit reluctantly. They said they’d follow the rules to the letter, and provide security, and all, but they weren’t going to like it. Certainly there was no hint of making the Turks welcome.

But! Kocharian left office in April (after some unpleasantness, some of which was discussed on this blog) and was replaced by his Defense Minister, Serge Sarksyan. And President Sarksyan has taken a different position. He has made it clear that his administration would be delighted to host the Turkish team and any other prominent Turk who cared to come along. He’s made that statement concrete in several ways, including waiving visas for Turkish visitors. Not that Armenia has ever had a lot of Turkish visitors, what with not having diplomatic relations and the border being closed and all, but they did require visas for any there might have been. Now they won’t.

Why? We-ell, I didn’t understand Armenian politics when I lived there — these people ltaught Byzantine politics to the Byzantines — but to simplify a hideously complex story, Kocharian was pandering to the nationalist party while Sarksyan thinks he can throw it overboard. Oh, and also Sarksyan’s administration started with a huge PR fiasco, viz., shooting unarmed protestors in the streets of the capital. That got the international community… well, “outraged” is much too strong, but “vaguely unhappy” would probably cover it. So a sudden dramatic act of diplomatic magnanimity is a good idea right now.

Finally, there’s Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia’s long territorial dispute with neighbor Azerbaijan. Both sides have been stubborn and stupid, but right now Armenia has more to lose. Turkey has strongly supported Azerbaijan — not surprising, since Azeris are basically Turks — but now might be a good time for Armenia to look for some daylight between these two allies.

And then of course the war in Georgia. Both Turkey and Armenia have been seriously inconvenienced by this, albeit in different ways. Turkey is worried about its oil pipeline through Georgia, and also about Russia’s heavy-handed reminders about the 1936 Black Sea Convention. (Long story.) Armenia is worried because, with the Turkish and Azeri borders closed, almost all their imports and exports go through Georgia. Armenians are very pro-Russian (while Turks tip a bit towards Georgia), but the war has dramatically reminded Armenia just how vulnerable they are as long as those borders are closed.

All that said, this is still bizarre and awesome. It’s bizarre because Armenians have a couple of million good reasons to hate the Turks, while the Turks have spent the last 90 years or so trying to convince themselves otherwise. The genocide is still the central fact of Armenian history, and the Turks are still denying it. It’s fair to say that Armenians in Armenia are less freaked by this than Armenians in the diaspora, but that’s not saying much. It’s a huge, huge deal.

It’s awesome because, well, it is. Sooner or later someone has to reach out. Maybe nothing will come of it. Probably nothing will come of it. And maybe the reasons are short-sighted or banal. But still: an attempt is being made. That’s really something.

Okay, just so we don’t end on that note, let’s go back to football. Group 5 is sort of a Group of Death, you know? It has one international powerhouse, Spain, and two plausible contenders, Belgium and Turkey. Bosnia and Armenia… well. So figure that Spain will take first place, and whoever wins the Belgium-Turkey game will try to win one of the five second-place slots.

This means that, if Armenia could somehow eke out a draw — never mind a win — they’d probably spike Turkey’s World Cup chances. And probably not do the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process much good, either.

We’ll see soon enough!

This entry was posted in Transition and accession and tagged , , by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

23 thoughts on “Meanwhile, in Armenia, football

  1. The draw is not random ! They use a seeding system.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_FIFA_World_Cup_qualification_(UEFA)#Seeding

    “After initially proposing to use a similar system to recent World Cup and European Championship qualification (based on results across the previous two European qualification cycles), the UEFA Executive Committee decided on 27 September 2007 at its meeting in Istanbul that seeding for the qualifiers would be based on FIFA World Rankings, in accordance with the FIFA World Cup regulations (which note that where teams are ranked on “performance” criteria, the FIFA World Rankings must be used).”

    Groups of death happen because some teams are actually better or have the potential to be better than their rank in the system used.

  2. If Armenia does in fact sabotage Turkey’s world cup chances, then this could be called “Reverse Ping-pong diplomacy,” with the opposite effect from sports occurring than the US/Chinese diplomatic breakthrough with their pingpong team.

    I believe that El Salvador and Honduras actually fought a war, appropriately entitled the football war, in the late 1960s, for an example.

  3. Random African, I don’t think that article is correct. Group E — and the other European groups — were picked in March 2007. (I know because I blogged about it back then.) And it was definitely random then; everyone in Armenia was surprised, and there was much discussion of the odds of it happening. (9.8%, as it turned out.)

    gk, that link makes no sense. Sorry.

    I note in passing that the Armenian government does worry about terrorists, but only Armenian ones. The Dashnaks a long and gruesome history of bombings and assassinations. And just because they’ve settled down to play nice as a political party in opposition doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten how.

    Doug M.

  4. Hmm.. that’s odd (and a quick google didn’t tell me when the draw happened).

    I mean, they’ve been using seeding since forever and the fact that there’s never been an Italy/Germany/France/Netherlands/Spain/England (or an Armenia/Georgia/Lichtenstein/Andorra/Feroes/Malta one) should back it up.

    But that said, the seeding wouldn’t prevent an Armenia-Turkey draw, just like it didnt prevent a Serbia-Bosnia game in the 2006 WC qualifiers or a Cuba-USA in this one or a North Korea/South Korea one in this campaign or an Armenia-Azerbadjan draw in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

  5. “It’s bizarre because Armenians have a couple of million good reasons to hate the Turks, while the Turks have spent the last 90 years or so trying to convince themselves otherwise.”

    Wow, has anyone ever summed it up more neatly or concise? Also don’t forget that last time around Armenia got drawn with Azerbaijan! Azerbaijan has a policy of no -ians allowed in their country, ever, so that didn’t work out very well. They apparently promised Armenia it would never get stuck with its sworn enemy Az again… and was promptly placed with Turkey. Someone in FIFA has a deviously sick sense of humor, I wonder if they had planned this to force a reconciliation of sorts all along?

    I’ve written a history and analysis of this invitation on my new Armenian issues blog: http://armhye.blogspot.com

  6. Belgium is an underdog.
    The issue is not so much their current ranking but the fact that they’re poised to have a golden generation coming up (yeah, that fourth place in the olympics came from somewhere).

    So they may be dangerous.

  7. Oh, and also Sarksyan’s administration started with a huge PR fiasco, viz., shooting unarmed protestors in the streets of the capital.

    Well, for sure it will please the international community and Sargsyan definitely has to do a lot to ride the storm over internal politics. However, it is not right to say he was responsible for the shootings on 1 March. Kocharian was still in power and gave the orders.

    Anyways, otherwise, point taken.

  8. Pingback: Armenia & the South Caucasus | The Caucasian Knot » Blog Archive » Armenia: Dashnaks Celebrate Karabakh Anniversary, Promise Street Protests

  9. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Armenia: An Unprecedented Football Match

  10. Onnik, I was there, remember? I said he started with a huge PR fiasco, not that it was his fault.

    Also, we didn’t see him hurrying to distance himself from Kocharian’s actions. In the months since then, he has a little bit — gradually, partially — but not enough to remove that very bad first impression.

    Doug M.

  11. Pingback: Global Voices بالعربية » أرمينيا: مباراة كرة قدم غير مسبوقة

  12. Doug heres te deal. In the 80s the euros ran al qaeda in afghanistan, and they allied themselves in the 90s wih the same in bosnia where they killed serbs to create the new greater albania which starts with kosovo now recognized by canada. The same forces were moved into nagorno to kill armenians, jews, and russians. And this was based in azerbaijan and assisted by Turkey and Georgia. Georgia and Azerbaijan wre also used to support the chechnya war inside russia., which created the beslan massacre.

    But there is a problem with beslam. The kids that were killed wre Muslim about 70%. Islamic law prohibits war gainst fellow Muslims, and prohibits jihad against children of any faith. so the terrorists were not Muslims. wo who were they? where did they come from?

    Three were Britih algerians. and in algera the euros funded and supported a muslim violent rebel faction most of whom who did not know they were actually working for the algerian government , being used to discredit the democratic islamic opposition to the oil company british colony dictatorship which was secular.

    same companies in algeria, operate the same in azerbaijan and georgia. and fund the same NGOs that created the georgia revolution and the one in ukraine. so chances r they r upset with their humiliation when corporate mercenaries wre killed by the russian forces (as reported by russian media).

    so they gotta do something. thats why cheney is in azerbaijan and georiga today. somethings being planned to punish the russians , or more likely their allies, cuz its a proxy war. maybe another para military attack like Beslan which almost brought down Putin ?

    heres the details on the bp oil company mercenaries in the algerian-casoian connection:

    http://www.julaybib.com/correlation-studies/2008/9/4/data-almanac-the-algerian-caspian-connection-and-the-next-be.html

  13. “Islamic law prohibits war gainst fellow Muslims, and prohibits jihad against children of any faith. so the terrorists were not Muslims.”

    If it really was possible to say that a faith’s outliers have nothing to do with said faith, then partisans would be able to sleep that much mroe sweetly at night.

  14. randy think about it. Did al qaeda or any islamic scholar celebrate, affirm in any way, or praise in any way the deaths of the Muslim (mainly) children in Beslan? No of course not. And by the waay, there was a revolt within the terror cell if thats what it was. They killed three of their own to enforce discipline early on. So yes there were probably religious Muslims present but the rank and file had no idea they were there to kidnap or kill children and that is why they revolted. If they had known, there would not have been any revolt against the cell’s leaders. So who were the chechen terror leaders, where were they trained, where did they come fom?

    We know they were not Muslim brotherhood, Hezbollah, or even Arab. They were mainly terrorists from the Georgia Azerbaijan region, most likely veterans of Nagorno-Karabach, and/or Kosovo.

    Its a proxy war against the opponents of the EU NATO expansion which includes Russia. A criminal mafia tied to Turkish Albanian drug rnners.

    Next time u want to see the world in a different way, study the US Azerbaijan chamber of commerce directors and funding sources. Azerbaiajan is a drug running, terrorist supporting dictatorship. Go ahead look:

    Private Intelligence Functions in the Caspian , read and follow the links in the pdf on this page.

    http://www.julaybib.com/correlation-studies/2008/8/24/private-intelligence-functions-in-the-caspian.html

    read it and weep.

    if not for the serbs, azeri, and russian kids, victims of this, maybe for the usa?

  15. “Doug heres te deal. In the 80s the euros ran al qaeda in afghanistan, and they allied themselves in the 90s wih the same in bosnia where they killed serbs to create the new greater albania which starts with kosovo now recognized by canada.”

    Wait.

    1. Wasn’t the support of the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan particularly but not only American?

    2. The Muslim freedom fighters who came to Bosnia towards the end of the war were welcomed by the Bosnian government not because it was Islamist but because it was desperate for any support. Others here can back me up on this, but Bosnians are defintitely not fundamentalists.

    3. “in bosnia where they killed serbs to create the new greater albania which starts with kosovo” You do know that there aren’t significant numbers of Albanians in Bosnia-Herzegovina, right?

    And why is Canadian recognition of Kosovar independence relevant to all this?

    “Three were Britih algerians.”

    In toher words, Muslims.

    “and in algera the euros funded and supported a muslim violent rebel faction most of whom who did not know they were actually working for the algerian government”

    But who were willing regardless to debate whether or not one should take sexually both the wife and the daughter of an infidel like the ones in those Algerian villages, or whether he should take only one, and if so which one.

    “being used to discredit the democratic islamic opposition to the oil company british colony dictatorship which was secular.”

    You know that Algeria was a French colony, right?

    “Did al qaeda or any islamic scholar celebrate, affirm in any way, or praise in any way the deaths of the Muslim (mainly) children in Beslan?”

    You’re calling _al-Qaeda_ Muslim? Funny, that, considering how that organization is willing to murder–among other people–children. Besides, those children, even those children claiming to be Muslim, were foreigners, auslander, God will know his own.

    Anyway, as you say, “[t]hey were mainly terrorists from the Georgia Azerbaijan region, most likely veterans of Nagorno-Karabach, and/or Kosovo,” i.e. likely to be Muslims. All the better if the local unbelievers don’t come from their neighbourhood.

  16. randy

    “Doug here’s te deal. In the 80s the euros ran al qaeda in Afghanistan, and they allied themselves in the 90s with the same in bosnia where they killed serbs to create the new greater albania which starts with kosovo now recognized by canada.”
    Wait.
    1. Wasn’t the support of the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan particularly but not only American?
    [No it was Saudi-British and Chinese in a major way. The USA left after attacks on Jews and Americans in the Clinton administration. British Mi6 ran the afghan camps after that. And they created and trained the Kosovo liberation army. Which makes the KLA a NATO brigade technically, Muslim in name only, like the Muslims that fought for the British against the Ottoman.]
    2. The Muslim freedom fighters who came to Bosnia towards the end of the war were welcomed by the Bosnian government not because it was Islamist but because it was desperate for any support. Others here can back me up on this, but Bosnians are definitely not fundamentalists.
    [Yes which it makes it strange they brought in radical terrorists who actually worked for money, some of whom were put on commercial jets from Afghanistan by . MI6 and the US air force supplied logistics support to the Muslim brigades and they were there from the beginning conducting terrorism inside Serbia. There was a British documentary on this which I’ll find if you want. ]
    3. “in Bosnia where they killed Serbs to create the new greater Albania which starts with Kosovo” You do know that there aren’t significant numbers of Albanians in Bosnia-Herzegovina, right?
    [ Many of the fighters were Albanian, and Albanian munitions were used in the London bombing. Its very close to China and heavily involved in criminal narco-terror activities in the Balkans. It’s a regional mafia not a religious movement. ]
    And why is Canadian recognition of Kosovo independence relevant to all this?
    [Its funny since they have not yet recognized Nagorno-Karabach where “Muslims”, actually MI6 Bp mercenaries possibly, tried to ethnically cleanse the Christian mercenaries. They’re still at war with Azerbaijan which is a close ally of the US and Cheney visited this week? ]
    “Three were British Algerians.”
    In other words, Muslims. [No British Algerian says nothing about their religion, most likely just Balkan veterans]
    “and in Algeria the euros funded and supported a Muslim violent rebel faction most of whom who did not know they were actually working for the Algerian government”
    But who were willing regardless to debate whether or not one should take sexually both the wife and the daughter of an infidel like the ones in those Algerian villages, or whether he should take only one, and if so which one.
    [Of course this happened its right out of the text book written by MI6 on pseudo operations, there is a good work on this by the naval war college on how the brits created the maim au in Kenya to keep control]
    “being used to discredit the democratic Islamic opposition to the oil company British colony dictatorship which was secular.”
    You know that Algeria was a French colony, right?
    [yes it was French, now its oil reserves are run by bp and bp stations mercenaries there, so that’s why I called it a British colony, but technically its not British, its European oil cartel asset]
    “Did al qaeda or any islamic scholar celebrate, affirm in any way, or praise in any way the deaths of the Muslim (mainly) children in Beslan?”
    You’re calling _al-Qaeda_ Muslim? Funny, that, considering how that organization is willing to murder–among other people–children. Besides, those children, even those children claiming to be Muslim, were foreigners, auslander, God will know his own.
    [No al qaeda is mentioned separately from the scholars who have issued a fatwa against bin laden and the concept of foreigners or races is not in Islam, although it of course exists in all peoples including people with the Islamic religion The Saudis hate the Pakistanis and look down on them for example, allegedly]
    Anyway, as you say, “[t]hey were mainly terrorists from the Georgia Azerbaijan region, most likely veterans of Nagorno-Karabach, and/or Kosovo,” i.e. likely to be Muslims. All the better if the local unbelievers don’t come from their neighborhood.
    [Interesting idea, this means that they could not get enough locals to fight, which is exactly what happened in Afghanistan, they had to bring in the foreign fighters who worked as soldiers of fortune because the locals would not cross the border into Russia to kill their neighbors. The same is true in Iraq today, even in a legitimate fight against foreign occupation.(under Islamic law, or early American values

    [[There is a major shortage of Jihadis in the usa as well. Thank G_d! Remember Vtech, some Korean kid killed like 30 people , or the mall shooting. There are weapons everywhere here, but no Islamic attacks on malls or universities. They did arrest some retarded kids in Florida after the FBI trained them for several weeks. The court threw the charges out however
    \
    ps I visit New York and know a lot of local Muslim immigrants. They like it here even with bad jobs and hate their local governments in the middle east. The last thing they’d do is mess that up for a trip back home. But you’re right I think about the fundamentalists, they hate the American culture, but so do fundamentalist Jews and Christians, for the same reasons.]

    see also
    http://www.julaybib.com/correlation-studies/2008/8/24/private-intelligence-functions-in-the-caspian.html

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