Citing security concerns, European football’s governing body, UEFA, has banned Turkish fans from attending an upcoming match in Yerevan between Armenia’s and Turkey’s national soccer teams.
The two neighboring nations as well as Croatia, Wales and Latvia were drawn into Group D of the qualifying tournament for the 2024 European Championship that will take place in Germany.
Turkey and Armenia will start their qualifying campaigns at Yerevan’s Vazgen Sargsian Republican Stadium on March 25.
The Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) confirmed on Tuesday that UEFA ordered it not to sell tickets to travelling Turkish fans in order to avoid “unnecessary tension” during the game.
For the same reason, Armenian fans will be barred from the second Euro 2024 qualifier between the two teams which will be played in Turkey in September.
An FFA spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that UEFA imposed the bans at its own initiative. Neither the Armenian nor the Turkish football federation had requested such a measure, he said.
Armenia and Turkey played each other for the first time in Yerevan in 2008. That match was attended by then-Turkish President Abdullah Gul and a small number of Turkish fans.
Gul’s landmark trip to the Armenian capital marked the beginning of a rapprochement between the two nations that nearly led to the normalization of their historically strained relations. Then Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian flew to Turkey a year later to watch a second game between the two teams.
“There was strong interest in that game,” said Levon Pachajian, a former Armenia international who played against the Turks in 2008. “A lot of journalists arrived from Turkey.”
Pachajian approved of UEFA’s decision, arguing that Turkish-Armenian relations are more fraught now than in 2008-2009 because of the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh during which Turkey strongly supported Azerbaijan.
“We all understand that football is an emotional sport and environment where violence and other provocations are possible,” said the former footballer.
Ankara and Yerevan launched another, more cautious normalization process a year ago. It has yielded few concrete results so far.