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Ethnic rivalry wins over kitsch in the Caucasus

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Foreign Policy magazine called the Eurovision Song Contest the "giddiest, stupidest, campiest, silliest international competition of them all," but don't tell that to anyone in the South Caucasus. Here, many take it very seriously indeed. With the opportunity on hand to perpetuate decades of animosity and years of ethnic hate, if Eurovision was meant to bring nations together, in this region it instead achieves the exact opposite. 

It all started in February with an anti-Putin disco number resulting in Georgia's eventual boycott of the contest held in Moscow, but more controversy emerged this week when Azerbaijan noticed the presence of a statue from the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh in Armenia's presentation video. Complaints to the competition organizers eventually saw it removed, but the dispute didn't end there.

During the televoting for tonight's final, for example, one user on Twitter reported that the number for Armenia had apparently been omitted from the simultaneous retransmission in Azerbaijan.


Armenia's broadcast was not without its problems either, with tweets indicating that the signal dropped for unknown reasons during Azerbaijan's turn to announce the results of its vote live on air. Although there is nothing to suggest that this was anything other than a technical problem, some in Armenia gleefully wondered if the glitch was deliberate. True, there is nothing to suggest that it wasn't at time of writing, but anyway.


Regardless, it didn't end there, with Armenia firing the final salvo at Azerbaijan in the form of its presenter, last year's entrant Sirusho, who used the opportunity to display a photograph of the offending monument which probably started the whole spat in the first place. Indicating that the action had been coordinated at the highest levels, a huge LCD screen in Yerevan's Republic Square was shown carrying the image behind the singer.

Naturally, many Armenians were delighted, and not least because it probably softened the blow of finishing well below Azerbaijan when all the votes were in and the final results announced.


All petty bickering, perhaps, but as the number of tweets on both the Armenian and Azeri entries skyrocketed enough to be featured as a Twitter trend, some initially feared the worst.


User BobKazak wasn't far off the mark, of course, and while music lovers everywhere can now sigh in relief that Eurovision has been and finally gone, local media, forums and blogs in both countries will likely continue the war of words over the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, the rest of the world will move on unaware and oblivious to the somewhat simplistic ethnic politics at play in an event as mediocre and insignificant as Eurovision. 

"I really thought that the picture the Armenian presenter was showing was the Easter Island statues," said one tweet after the competition had ended, while others might simply wonder if the television stations of both republics will ever be as active in actually preparing their respective populations for peace. For now, however, the likelihood of that ever happening seems as far away as ever.


Onnik Krikorian | May 17, 2009 9:38 AM | Reply

Well, just had a phone call from Armenian Public TV to say they had read my Frontline post on Eurovision. There was an important detail about the statue left out, the voice said, and explained what it was.

No, it wasn't left out, I responded and said it was in the introduction. Oh, you're right, it said after a pause long enough to read the first few paragraphs again. Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of Eurovision.

Damn! And I thought it had finished...

Meanwhile, the voice also said that an official complaint had been made against Azerbaijan for what might be a violation of the rules of the contest, while I suppose the same will be happening there against Armenia.

Like I said, this is going to continue for some time now, and it's probably wise for any sane mortal to keep away from either reading the online news and certainly the blogs. Eurovision - bringing nations together since 1956.

Or apparently not...

Onnik Krikorian | May 17, 2009 11:00 AM | Reply

It's probably worth pointing out that while the battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan was waging, Georgia too was continuing in its spat with Russia by hosting an "alternative" to the competition in its capital.

Tbilisi Open Air-Alter/Vision will be the first event of this scale and sophistication to take place in Tbilisi . Freed from politics and social clichés, this festival will be carrying the European cultural spirit, thus perfectly opposing “Eurovision” which will be held in MOSCOW. link

Not quite sure about being "freed from politics and social clichés," but anyway.

Onnik Krikorian | May 17, 2009 11:17 AM | Reply

Incidentally, regarding the interruption to Azerbaijan's live vote segment, I'm told that the same happened in the U.K. which means it was simply a technical problem. Still, that didn't stop some from getting a little too carried away...

Onnik Krikorian | May 17, 2009 12:30 PM | Reply

Одно не пойму почему наши убрали номер Армении с экрана для голосования?? Что за примитивизм?


Onnik Krikorian | May 17, 2009 1:48 PM | Reply

Well, on a brighter note, a local publication reports that Armenia gave 1 point to Azerbaijan. Not a lot, but something considering the unresolved conflict over Karabakh between the two countries.


Incidentally, a friend in Azerbaijan said she didn't notice the voting procedure, but reckoned Azeris might have awarded 1 point to Armenia too if given the chance. Of course, we'll never know, but one thing is for sure.

The action, again apparently coordinated by a group of bloggers working in Armenian Public TV, will hardly contribute to peace and might just have set back any hopes for progress in that area.

Designed to anger the Azeri population, it probably succeeded in that goal. Maybe it's time for Eurovision to hand down very strict rules to both countries on how to behave in the future?

At the very least I'd expect the two TV stations to be at least fined if possible.

On a brighter note, more sensible individuals in both countries just think the tit-for-tat battling in Eurovision is plain irresponsible and immature.We'll see if things change next year, but I wouldn't bet any money on it.

Onnik Krikorian | May 17, 2009 6:13 PM | Reply

Writing on her new English-language blog, Azeri blogger Nigar Fatali (coincidentally one of those detained last Sunday in Baku) also weighs in with perhaps the most thought provoking and compelling commentary of all:

I didn't notice the picture Sirusho held in her hands but I saw it today on TV and it made me think. I finally realized that there's no chance for this region to become a civilized one unless we rewrite the whole history which makes all of us think we're fucking special.

We might have had plenty of lands and legendary kings but what do we have today? 3 major and several minor conflicts in a tiny region and headlines in the world news? Is this something to be proud of? Are hating-the-neigbor zombie generations good future for us? Not for me or the kids I will eventually have. Not for any of us.

Perhaps, it's time to switch from Kindergarten approach to the real Conflict Resolution one, don't you think?

Our kids need fairytales not war tales, love, not hatred.

Our kids deserve the peaceful happiness we have never had. link

Mikael | May 18, 2009 7:30 AM | Reply

Armenians and Azeris hate each other, and that's the grim reality of today.
This hatred has to come out somewhere - it's good that we have Eurovision for this.
After all, it's better to be fighting at the Eurovision, rather
than on the battlefied.
Eurovision: Transforming Conflicts since 1956 :)))

Onnik Krikorian | May 22, 2009 11:59 AM | Reply

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso has now published my article on the Eurovision squabbling which pretty much puts together all of the above into 1,000 or so words.

Already notorious more for its political block voting than even its kitsch and glitzy musical entries, nothing could have prepared anyone for the controversy surrounding the three countries of the South Caucasus in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. link
L'Eurovision Song Contest famoso per le esibizioni musicali ostentate e sdolcinate, quest'anno è stato teatro di una controversia del tutto inaspettata che ha coinvolto i tre paesi del Caucaso meridionale. link

Onnik Krikorian | August 19, 2009 12:51 PM | Reply

Unfortunately, the stupidity continues even three months later with news that the Azeri security services obtaining the names of 43 people who voted for Armenia during the competition. At least one has been questioned.

I'll be putting together a post for Frontline a little later, but in the meantime there's a roundup of blogger reaction to the latest scandal to hit Eurovision on Global Voices:


What do you think?