Armenia–Azerbaijan relations in the Eurovision Song Contest
Armenia has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since 2006, while Azerbaijan has participated since 2008. The continuing conflict between the two countries over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is considered to be a de jure part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations, but has been under control of the Armenia-backed de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic since 1993, has affected the Eurovision Song Contest on several occasions.
Conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan first appeared in 2006, when Azeri media criticized the event's website for listing Nagorno-Karabakh as the birthplace of Armenia's first representative, André, as it was part of the Azerbaijan SSR at the time. Conflicts notably escalated throughout the 2009 contest: during the semi-finals, Azeri officials objected to the depiction of the Nagorno-Karabakh monument We Are Our Mountains during an introductory video for the Armenian entry. Armenia retaliated during the finals by displaying multiple images of the monument whilst presenting its results. Following the contest, allegations emerged that Azerbaijan's state broadcaster had tampered with its feed of the broadcast to censor the Armenian entry, and that the Azeri government was interrogating citizens who voted for Armenia, accusing them of being unpatriotic and a threat to security. Following an inquiry, Azerbaijan was fined by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for breaching the privacy of voters.
Following the 2010 Junior Eurovision Song Contest, Armenian media claimed that Azerbaijan's broadcaster had cut off the broadcast when it became apparent that Armenia had won; however, it was disputed whether the contest was even broadcast in Azerbaijan. Accordingly, as Azerbaijan prepared to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest following its victory in 2011, a group of Armenian musicians led a boycott effort, and the country would ultimately withdraw from the contest, causing the broadcaster to be fined for the late notice. Armenia returned in the 2013 edition, which was held in Sweden. The move was criticized by an Azeri politician and a representative of the country's state broadcaster, who felt that Armenia's participation could have been a symbol of peace between the two nations, and that the decision would further damage the country's reputation.
Conflicts between the two countries began to develop again during the lead-up to the 2015 contest, as critics perceived the lyrics and music video of Armenia's entry "Don't Deny" as alluding to the Armenian Genocide—whose 100th anniversary will be commemorated nearly a month prior to the contest. As Azerbaijan, alongside Turkey, denies the genocide, officials from the country issued a statement threatening Armenia for attempting to use Eurovision as an outlet for its "political ambitions". Armenia's delegation has denied that the song is specifically about the genocide, and re-named the song "Face the Shadow" to address concerns over its alleged political themes.
In 2006—the first year in which Armenia participated, the official Eurovision website listed the birthplace of its performer André as being in the "Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh". Media outlets in Azerbaijan criticized the contest's organizers for recognizing the republic, especially given that the region was an autonomus oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR when André was born in 1979. The birthplace listing on André's profile was later removed entirely.
Azerbaijan would make its own Eurovision debut in 2008—marking the first time both Armenia and Azerbaijan competed against each other at the contest. The Armenian entry, "Qélé, Qélé" by Sirusho, finished in 4th place, while Azerbaijan's inaugural entry, "Day After Day", finished 8th.
Postcard controversy and aftermath
During the first semi-final of the 2009 contest, the "postcard" video introducing the performance of the Armenian entry "Jan Jan" depicted, amongst other monuments, We Are Our Mountains, an art piece located in Nagorno-Karabakh's capital city of Stepanakert. Due to the country's claims over the region, Azerbaijani officials complained about the video's use of We Are Our Mountains to represent Armenia. For the finals of the contest, the offending statue was edited out of the Armenian postcard.
In protest of the decision, multiple photographs of We Are Our Mountains were displayed during the presentation of voting results from Armenia; one was displayed on a video screen at Yerevan's Republic Square in the background, and another was displayed on the back of a clipboard that the presenter Sirusho was reading results from. Despite the controversy, 1,065 Armenians voted for the Azerbaijani entry, enough to give the country a single point. A total of 43 Azerbaijanis voted for the Armenian entry.
Censorship, interrogation of voters
Following the contest, reports surfaced that the local Azeri broadcaster, İctimai Television, had attempted to censor the Armenian performance from its broadcast of the final, and had obscured the voting number for the entry in an effort to discourage voting for it. İTV denied these claims, and provided footage showing that its broadcast was untampered. In August 2009, a number of Azerbaijanis who had voted for Armenia's entry during the contest were summoned for questioning at the Ministry of National Security in Baku, during which they were accused of being "unpatriotic" and "a potential security threat". One of those summoned, Rovshan Nasirli (who had voted for "Jan Jan" because he felt it was a better reflection of Azeri music than "Always", the country's actual entry) said that he was told by his interrogators that they had the names and addresses of all 43 Azerbaijanis who had voted for Armenia.
Following these reports, Svante Stockselius, executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, announced the launch of an enquiry into the incidents. In their response, İctimai TV stated that while two individuals had been invited to the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of National Security had given assurances that nobody had been questioned, either officially or unofficially, on voting in the competition itself. EBU Director General, Jean Réveillon, responded to this by saying that freedom to vote is one of the cornerstones of the contest and "Any breach of privacy regarding voting, or interrogation of individuals, is totally unacceptable". Azerbaijani Minister of Youth and Sport, Azad Rahimov, denied that anyone had been summoned to the Ministry of National Security about voting for the Armenian entry, and accused RFE/RL and other news outlets of reporting the allegations to create a scandal.
The Reference Group of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes Eurovision, examined the matter at a meeting in Oslo on 11 September 2009. In a statement issued on 17 September, the EBU acknowledged the allegations that Azeri officials were interrogating voters and breaching their privacy. While the EBU would not impose sanctions on or ban Azerbaijan from future editions of the contest (the country could have been banned from the contest for three years), it did change its rules to make participating broadcasters liable for the "disclosure of information which could be used to identify voters" during future editions of the contest. Previously, telecommunications providers were liable, but the EBU could not impose sanctions on them. Azerbaijan was also fined €2,700 by the EBU.
The 2012 Eurovision Song Contest was hosted by Baku, Azerbaijan after their win in 2011. Azerbaijan temporarily amended its visa policy to allow Armenians, who are normally barred from entering the country, to attend the event. However, in February 2012, a boycott effort emerged in Armenia following an incident where a 20-year-old Armenian soldier was shot dead on the border between the two countries. Armenian officials initially blamed the soldier's death on an Azerbaijani sniper; however, conflicting reports indicated that the death was the result of friendly fire. Also in February, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev made a statement re-affirming the country's stance against Armenians, arguing that they control "hypocritical and corrupt politicians." 22 Armenian musicians, including previous Armenian Eurovision representatives Emmy and Eva Rivas, signed an open letter supporting a boycott, stating that they would "refuse to appear in a country that is well-known for the mass killings and massacres of Armenians, in a country where anti-Armenian sentiments have been elevated to the level of state policy."
On 7 March 2012, Armenian officials announced that the country would withdraw from the 2012 contest. The EBU stated that it was "truly disappointed" with Armenia's withdrawal, and that "despite the efforts of the EBU and the Host Broadcaster to ensure a smooth participation for the Armenian delegation in this year's Contest, circumstances beyond our control lead to this unfortunate decision." İTV General Director Ismayil Omarov expressed his regret about Armenia's withdrawal, believing that the country's presence could have been a "joint peace message to the world." Local politician Ali Ahmadov also criticized the Armenian delegation for its decision, stating that "[its] refusal to take part in such a respected contest will cause even further damage to the already damaged image of Armenia."
Due to its late withdrawal, Armenia was required to pay its entry fee, plus a fine totalling half the value of the entry fee.
2010 Junior Eurovision Song Contest
Vladimir Arzumanyan, a singer from Nagorno-Karabakh representing Armenia, won the 2010 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. It was alleged by Armenian media outlets that the broadcast of the contest in Azerbaijan was interrupted when it became apparent that Armenia had won.
These claims were disputed by Armenia 1 director and Eurovision delegation leader Diana Mnatsakanyan, who also denied reports that the country was preparing to file a complaint with the EBU over the matter. She noted that the broadcaster did not know whether Azerbaijan even aired the contest at all, given that the country had not yet participated in the Junior Eurovision and had "no interest" in it at the time, and that reports about the alleged incident were limited to posts on Azerbaijani forums. Azerbaijan would ultimately make its official debut at the Junior Eurovision two years later.
Upon its unveiling in March 2015, media outlets characterized Armenia's entry in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, "Don't Deny", as being in tribute to the Armenian Genocide, whose 100th anniversary will be commemorated on 24 April 2015 (roughly a month prior to the contest). The song is performed by Genealogy, a group whose composition alludes to the forget-me-not by consisting of five Armenian diaspora, along with a sixth singer representing Armenia and their unity. "Don't Deny" was perceived to be a call for recognition of the genocide; critics also noted that the song's music video contained visuals alluding to the genocide, with one scene depicting the group's members posing for a family photo in World War I-era outfits, and then disappearing from sight. Gohar Gasparyan, head of Armenia's Eurovision delegation, has described the song as being about love and unity, and did not make reference to any specific political intent or themes. Representatives of Azerbaijan—which, alongside Turkey, denies the genocide—criticized the song for its alleged political themes, and stated that they would "act adequately" to prevent the contest from being "sacrificed to the political ambitions of a country."
On 16 March 2015, the Armenian delegation announced that it would rename the song to "Face the Shadow" to quell concerns over the alleged political themes of the song and to "strengthen" its themes; the song's original title still appears as part of its refrain. The delegation continues to deny any specific political subtext in the song.
- "Armenia Fined for Refusal to Take Part in Eurovision 2012". RIA Novosti. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Brey, Marco (22 January 2013). "Gor Sujyan will represent Armenia!". Eurovision.tv.
- "You need friends to win in Eurovision". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 June 2014.
- "Абульфаз Гараев: "Руководство Евровидения устранило ошибку на своем сайте"". Day.az (in Russian). Retrieved 4 June 2014.
- "Azerbaijan: Major success since 2008 debut". Eurovision.tv. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
- "Disappointing Performance Leaves Armenia Behind at Eurovision". The Armenian Weekly. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
- Krikorian, Onnik (16 May 2009). "Ethnic rivalry wins over kitsch in the Caucasus". Frontline Club. Retrieved 17 September 2008.
- Deasy, Kristin (15 May 2009). "Eurovision: A Melting-Pot Contest, Where Native Doesn't Always Mean Best". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Archived from the original on 17 May 2009. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
- "How Armenia and Azerbaijan Wage War Through Eurovision". Time. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Azerbaijani Minister Criticizes RFE/RL Over Eurovision Interrogation Story". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 4 September 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Голосование за Ингу и Ануш в Азербайджане /ВИДЕО/". 1news.az. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
- "Can Eurovision Succeed Where Diplomacy Has Failed?". Ararat. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Azerbaijanis in Eurovision probe". BBC News. 17 August 2009. Retrieved 17 August 2009.
- "Azerbaijani Authorities Interrogate Music Fan Over Eurovision Vote For Armenia". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Azeris Questioned Over Eurovision Vote For Armenia". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Eurovision Organizer Probes Azeri Crackdown". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "EBU receives responses from Azerbaijan". Eurovision.tv. 11 September 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Eurovision Amends Rules, Does Not Sanction Azerbaijan". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 17 September 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Armenians Are Shunning Song Contest in Azerbaijan". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Armenia withdraws from Eurovision 2012". Eurovision.tv. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Armenia Officially Rejects Eurovision Song Contest". RIA Novosti. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Ismayil Omarov: "The performance of Armenia’s representative on Baku stage could be a joint peace message to the world"". APA. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Azerbaijan interrupted Eurovision-2010 broadcast after the victory of the Armenian performer from Karabakh". NEWS.am. 13 June 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
- "Azerbaijan does not "endure" victory of Vladimir Arzumanyan at 2010 Junior Eurovision". PanARMENIAN.Net. 21 November 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
- "Public Television of Armenia denies the country’s intention to file complaint against Azerbaijan to European Broadcasting Union". PanARMENIAN.Net. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Junior 2012: 12 countries to take part". European Broadcasting Union. 1 September 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- Siim, Jarmo (17 March 2015). "Armenia changes song title". eurovision.tv. European Broadcasting Union. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
- "Azerbaijan to adequately act if Armenia turns Eurovision into political arena". Trend.az. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
- Lomsadze, Giorgi (13 March 2015). "Armenia Takes Genocide-Recognition to Eurovision". Eurasianet. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
- "Possible messages for recognition of ‘Armenian genocide’ in Armenia's song for Eurovision to be looked for". APA.az. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
- "Armenia Dodges Eurovision Controversy". Eurasianet.org. Retrieved 22 March 2015.