It is almost impossible not to talk about soccer in Bursa before the game between the Turkish and Armenian national teams takes place in the city. Bursa is ready to host the Armenian team and the game amid growing interest from around the world. The actual match is receiving little interest because Turkey lost its chance to qualify for the World Cup tournament after a 2-0 loss to Belgium; however, the very same game bears political importance because of its probable contribution to the bilateral ties between the two countries. The atmosphere at the game will be different this time in view of violent events that transpired at a Turkish League march between Bursaspor and Diyarbakırspor two weeks ago.

Measures have been taken to prevent provocative incidents similar to those that took place in the city stadium where the fans shouted “PKK out,” implying that Diyarbakırspor is the team of PKK supporters.

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan is expected to be present at the game, a move that will contribute to recent improvement in bilateral ties following the signing of protocols between the two countries. Sarkysan's attendance is very likely despite his previous statement that he will not come to Turkey for the game unless Turkey opens the border with Armenia. In the wake of the signing of the protocols in Zurich on Saturday seeking to enhance ties between the two countries, analysts note that Sarkysan's attendance should be expected.

President Abdullah Gül, who started a new era in relations between the two countries when he attended the game between the Turkish and Armenian national teams in Yerevan on Sept. 6, 2008, called Bursa Governor Şahabettin Harput to Ankara to brief on the security measures taken in the city. Gül had previously noted that the message to be delivered at the game in Bursa will promote Turkey's worldwide image and prestige. President Gül also met with municipal authorities. Noting how well received he had been in Armenia, Gül urged the local administrators to arrange a similar welcoming event for the Armenian team. In a statement Gül said: “Armenian fans sent us home with applause despite our 2-0 win. We have to teach a lesson to the world in Bursa. I want the game to serve as a model and example for world peace. I believe that Bursa will show its extensive hospitability considering its historical identity as a host to world civilizations.”

Bursa Ready to Host the Game

It appears that the city is completely ready to host the game. Special measures have been taken to prevent provocative incidents and racist as well as nationalistic assaults; the measures specifically address fanatic groups known for their violent tendencies. At a press conference, Bursa Governor Harput said: “We will not allow any improper acts that will violate the security and safety of the environment at the stadium and harm the bilateral relations between Turkey and Armenia.”

Noting that they are aware of the importance of the message to be delivered by the presidents of the two countries at the game, Harput stressed that the fans will not be allowed to bring any items other than Turkish flags and national team jerseys. Local authorities also held meetings with the fan groups in Bursa. Harput underlined that the Bursa fans have pledged to remain cautious and careful on this matter and that the Armenian delegation will be well received in the city.

Bursaspor fans are known as the Green Lizards, and Texas is the most hotheaded group affiliated with the Green Lizards. In a statement with Today's Zaman, Mesut Ağrak, chair of the Bursaspor Fans Association, who pledged that the fan groups will not provoke any violent incidents during the game, notes that only Turkish flags will be waved. “The game is pretty important for Turkey's image and prestige. We are aware that no flags or placards other than Turkish flags will be allowed at the game. We will observe this rule for the sake of the interests of our country. The games with Holland and Germany took place in our city, and nothing happened in these games. Nobody should expect that incidents similar to those that occurred in the game with Diyarbakır will take place again.”

Two thousand police officers will be stationed in the stadium in an attempt to maintain the safety and security of the spectators. A number of police officers from other cities were called for duty; plainclothes police will watch the game among the regular crowd. They will take proper measures in the event of excessive acts or provocative chanting. The fans will not be allowed to bring any item suitable for inscription; the authorities took this measure considering that the fans may write provocative messages on such items during the game.

The Bursa Police Department has taken extraordinary measures because of information recently received that some fanatic groups are planning violence during the game. Turkish security forces, who have learned lessons from the game with Diyarbakırspor, have decided to act carefully and meticulously this time. Information on the route the Armenian delegation will take during its arrival in the city as well as the venue where they will be accommodated will be kept confidential. The press has not been informed whether the Armenian team will be landing in Bursa or staying in İstanbul before their arrival in the city.