Armenia pulls out of Eurovision over host Azerbaijan


EUROVISION IS again stirring political passions, with Armenia withdrawing from this year’s song contest in protest at comments made by the president of host country Azerbaijan.

The ex-Soviet neighbours went to war in the early 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian-populated enclave inside Azerbaijan. Some 30,000 people died in the fighting, and though a ceasefire was declared in 1994, no peace treaty has been signed.

The issue still dominates politics in both countries, and they accuse each other of perpetuating the “frozen conflict” while preparing for renewed fighting. Soldiers from both sides are still regularly killed in sniper fire and skirmishes along the tense front line.

Late last month, some 50,000 Azeris rallied in Baku – where Eurovision will take place from May 22nd-26th – to commemorate the 20th anniversary of an alleged massacre by Armenians, and Azeri president Ilham Aliyev said, “Our main enemies are Armenians of the world and the hypocritical and corrupt politicians that they control.”

Armenia responded this week by withdrawing from Eurovision. “Despite the fact that the Azeri authorities have given security guarantees to all participating countries, several days ago the Azeri president made a statement that enemy number one for Azerbaijan was Armenians,” said state television in Yerevan. “There is no logic to sending a participant to a country where he will be met as an enemy.” Pressure to pull out of the event had been building in Armenia for some time, and intensified after Yerevan blamed Azeri sniper fire for the death of one of its soldiers last month.

“We refuse to appear in a country that is well known for mass killings and massacres of Armenians, in a country where anti-Armenian sentiments have been elevated to the level of state policy,” a group of Armenian singers said in a statement released after the soldier’s death.

Azeri politicians accused Yerevan of spouting “lies” and “propaganda”, and a senior member of the ruling party said Armenia’s withdrawal would “damage its image, which is already not in very good condition”. The European Broadcasting Union that organises Eurovision said it was “truly disappointed” by Armenia’s move, which enhances the contest’s reputation as a kitsch arena for political sparring.

Aside from the perennial tactical voting, recent years have seen Georgia barred from singing a thinly veiled critique of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and Belarus’ poor 2011 showing blamed by president Alexander Lukashenko on an EU-led campaign to “suffocate Belarus in all directions”.

The authoritarian Mr Lukashenko declared last month that the competition to find this year’s Belarusian entry to Eurovision had been rigged, and the second-placed group was named the winner.