Armenia–Azerbaijan relations in the Eurovision Song Contest
Armenia has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, a pan-European music competition, 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 Azerbaijani 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, Azerbaijani officials objected to the depiction of the Nagorno-Karabakh monument We Are Our Mountains during an introductory video for the Armenian entry. Armenia responded during the finals by displaying multiple images of the monument whilst presenting its results. Following the contest, reports emerged that Azerbaijan's state broadcaster had tampered with its feed of the broadcast to censor the Armenian entry, and that the Azerbaijani 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 as they had not yet participated. 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.
Conflicts between the two countries began to develop again during the lead-up to the 2015 contest, where allegations emerged that the Armenian entry, "Don't Deny", was a call for recognition of the Armenian genocide (whose 100th anniversary was commemorated prior to the 2015 contest). As Azerbaijan denies the genocide, officials from the country issued a statement threatening Armenia for attempting to use Eurovision as an outlet for its "political ambitions". The song was subsequently renamed "Face the Shadow" to address concerns over its alleged political themes. The following year, Armenian representative Iveta Mukuchyan was reprimanded by organizers for displaying the flag of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic during the first semi-final.
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 autonomous 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.
Armenian 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 objected to the portrayal of We Are Our Mountains as being an Armenian landmark. For the finals telecast, the video was edited to remove the statue.
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 Armenian voting 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 in Azerbaijan
Following the contest, reports surfaced that the local Azerbaijani 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 with. 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 Azerbaijani music than "Always", the country's actual entry) said that his interrogators told him 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 had given assurances that nobody had been questioned, either officially or unofficially, on voting in the competition itself. The European Broadcasting Union (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 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 Azerbaijani 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 fined the delegation €2,700, and changed 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.
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.
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, Azerbaijani 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.
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 centenary was commemorated on 24 April 2015. The song was 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 by critics to be a call for recognition of the genocide, further noting that the song's music video contained a 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, 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 the title of the entry had been changed to "Face the Shadow"; they stated that the new title was meant to "strengthen" the themes of the song, and to quell concerns over the alleged political subtext. The delegation continued to deny any specific political subtext in the song.
Despite the EBU allowing only the flags of full UN member states to be displayed at the 2016 contest, during the first semi-final on 10 May 2016, the Armenian representative Iveta Mukuchyan was seen holding the flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, sparking backlash from the Azerbaijani press. During a press conference following the semi-final, Mukuchyan responded to the incident by stating that "You don't have to forget that I am representing my country in my heart, my thoughts, my feelings, and all my emotions. My thoughts are with my motherland, and what I want to spread is peace on borders. I wrote 'LoveWave' because this was going on inside of me."
The EBU and the reference group released a statement the following day explaining that they "strongly condemn the brandishing of the Nagorno-Karabakh flag" during the live transmission of the first semi final, and consider the appearance "harmful" to the contest brand. The reference group has consequently sanctioned the Armenian broadcaster AMPTV, with the nature of the sanction to be determined citing a breach of the rule stating "no messages promoting any organisation, institution, political cause or other causes shall be allowed in the shows". Furthermore, the reference group has pointed out that a further breach of the rules of the contest could lead to disqualification from the year's event or any successive editions. Hikmet Hajiyev, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Azerbaijan called the action of Mukuchyan "provocative" and unacceptable claiming that "the Armenian side deliberately resorts to such steps to encourage and promote the illegal formation created in the occupied Azerbaijani territories”.
After the final in 2019, İctimai TV, the Azerbaijani public broadcaster filed a complaint with the EBU for the graphics shown during the voting sequence. It did not include Nakhchivan on Azerbaijan's map when shown during the broadcast.
A Change.org petition called the European Broadcasting Union to disqualify Samira Efendi, the representative of Azerbaijan in the Eurovision Song Contest 2021, from participating in the contest. It accused her of using "hate speech", "discrimination", encouraging "killing of Armenians", sharing taglines that called Armenians "terrorists", and openly supporting the country's president Ilham Aliyev, while not providing a direct citation of the comments Efendi allegedly made. It garnered around 10,000 signatures. The Azerbaijani head of delegation called the petition a "provocation", and the EBU did not address the petition.
Despite hugely hostile relations between the two nations over the years, points have still been exchanged. The tables below show the points awarded between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the latter debuted in Eurovision Song Contest 2008.
|Armenia → Azerbaijan|
- SF: – Semi-final
- F: – Final
- T: – Televote
- J: – Jury vote
Azerbaijan has never given Armenia any points. Every juror that the Azeri delegation has deployed to the contest has ranked Armenia last. In the televote, Armenia has been ranked last on nearly every occasion, other than in 2016 - Armenian representative Iveta Mukuchyan ranked 14th in a field of 17 during the semi-final.
- "Armenia Fined for Refusal to Take Part in Eurovision 2012". RIA Novosti. Archived from the original on 25 June 2012. 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). 15 March 2006. 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. 11 May 2011. 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.
- Adams, William Lee (11 March 2012). "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. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
- "Can Eurovision Succeed Where Diplomacy Has Failed?". Ararat. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. 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. Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Eurovision Amends Rules, Does Not Sanction Azerbaijan". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 17 September 2009. 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. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. 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.
- "Armenians Are Shunning Song Contest in Azerbaijan". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Armenia withdraws from Eurovision 2012". Eurovision.tv. Archived from the original on 27 September 2012. 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.
- 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.
- "Palestinians condemn Eurovision Song Contest for flag ban". Euronews. 2 May 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
- "Armenia faces Eurovision ban for flag-waving". Euronews. 12 May 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
- "Iveta från Armenien med känsliga flaggan i Eurovision 2016 – kan vara regelbrott". svt.se. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
- "Armenia threatened with Eurovision disqualification after breaking regional flag rule". Metro. 11 May 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- "Official statement on use of Nagorno-Karabakh flag at Eurovision Song Contest". EBU - Facebook. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
- Armenian provocation prevented at Eurovision Song Contest // azernews.az, 11 May 2016.
- "Azerbaijan: Local media reports Chingiz's feeling of "injustice" after result...as broadcaster Ictimai sends formal complaint to the EBU over voting map". wiwibloggs. 27 May 2019. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
- "Controversy about Efendi".
- "Армения воюет с Азербайджаном и на полях "Евровидения"" [Armenia is at war with Azerbaijan and on the fields of "Eurovision"] (in Russian).
- "Petition to disqualify Azerbaijani participant from Eurovision 2021 hits around 5,000 signatures".
- "Petition demands Efendi removed from Eurovision for pro-Azerbaijan posts". Republic Underground. 24 May 2021. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
- "Глава азербайджанской делегации на Евровидении-2021: Европейский вещательный союз никак не отреагировал на провокацию Армении" (in Russian).