Armenia, Turkey in Football Diplomacy

APTurkey's Gul, left, and Armenia's Sargsyan meeting in Yerevan on Saturday.
YEREVAN, Armenia — The presidents of Turkey and Armenia watched a football match together Saturday during a landmark encounter that they said could help end almost a century of hostility and boost security in the Caucasus.

Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia. The neighbors have no diplomatic ties but a relationship haunted by whether ethnic Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks during World War I were victims of genocide.

Security was tight. Helicopters escorted Gul's jet on arrival, and hundreds of demonstrators lined the streets of the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

But the two presidents expressed hope that their meeting at the World Cup qualifier, the first match between the two national sides, would herald a new beginning.

"We hope we will be able to demonstrate goodwill to solve the problems between our countries and not transfer them to future generations," Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said at a news conference after receiving Gul.

Gul said he was "leaving optimistic."

"If we create a good atmosphere and climate for this process, this will be a great achievement, and will also benefit stability and cooperation in the Caucasus," he told reporters after the game, which Turkey won 2-0.

Sargsyan said he would attend the return match in October 2009.

But even as the two presidents took their seats together in Hrazdan Stadium, the challenges were obvious.

Armenian fans booed the Turkish national anthem, and dozens of demonstrators held torches and flowers in silent vigil at an imposing monument to the World War I killings on a hillside behind the stadium.