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Armenian president to visit Turkey next year

ANKARA, November 24 (RIA Novosti) - Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has accepted an invitation from his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to visit the country next year, the Armenian foreign minister said Monday.

"The Armenian president will be in Istanbul in October 2009," Eduard Nalbandyan told journalists in Istanbul, where he took part in a meeting of foreign ministers of Black Sea Economic Cooperation member states.

In September, the Turkish and Armenian presidents met in Yerevan, and watched a soccer match between the national teams. The Turkish government called the meeting between two heads of states, which have no diplomatic relations, "historic".

The border between Turkey and ex-Soviet Armenia has been closed since 1993 on Ankara's initiative. Turkey says Armenia must end attempts to have the WWI massacre of Armenians recognized as an act of genocide, and must settle its territorial dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh.

Turkey says the deaths and deportations of Armenians at the end of the Ottoman period in 1915 were caused by civil war rather than deliberate genocide. However, the majority of Western academics qualify the massacre as genocide.

Armenia has said it is ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without additional conditions.

Nalbandyan said the government wants relations to be normalized, and said that "opening the border would serve the two countries' interests."

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that Turkey intends to send an ambassador-at-large to Armenia without opening a diplomatic mission, if Armenia agrees to create a commission to investigate the 1915 events.

Such a move would mean a de facto establishment of diplomatic relations.

Nagorny Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan with a largely Armenian population, declared its independence from Azerbaijan to join Armenia in 1988, and has been a source of conflict ever since. Turkey supports Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict.

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