Ex Caucasus semper aliquid novo:
Rovshan Nasirli, a young Eurovision fan living in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, says he was summoned this week to the country’s National Security Ministry — to explain why he had voted for Armenia during this year’s competition in May.
“They wanted an explanation for why I voted for Armenia. They said it was a matter of national security,â€ Nasirli said. â€œThey were trying to put psychological pressure on me, saying things like, ‘You have no sense of ethnic pride. How come you voted for Armenia?’ They made me write out an explanation, and then they let me go.”
A total of 43 Azeris voted for the Armenian duo Inga and Anush, and their song, “Jan-Jan.”
Nasirli, like others, used his mobile phone to send a text message expressing his preference, little imagining his vote would eventually result in a summons from national security officials. (By contrast, 1,065 Armenians voted for the Azerbaijani team, apparently without consequence.)
— That’s actually a fairly good index of the relative freedoms of the two countries. Armenia is a managed democracy, where the opposition is kept pretty toothless. Last year, when the government got tired of peaceful protests over a stolen election, they gunned down a bunch of protesters in the street. (And then blamed the opposition, of course.)
That said, Armenia has a formal opposition. The Armenian press is free-ish. (Well, newspapers are. TV and radio, not so much.) Open criticism of the government is tolerated. (Open criticism of individual members of the government is trickier.) And there’s a much wider field for… I’m not sure how to say it… not dissent exactly. Opinions that differ from the nationalist consensus? There are boundaries that can’t be crossed in Armenia, but they’re much wider. Nobody really cares if you vote for the Azeris.
Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is a fairly repressive dictatorship. There’s not much more to say. Politically, it resembles the former Soviet republics of Central Asia much more than it does either of the other two countries of the south Caucasus. And Azeri society allows much less room for public dissent.
— I’ll go out on a limb and suggest there’s another factor at work here: over the last fifteen years, Azerbaijan has built up the Armenians as monsters of absolute evil, genocidal ethnic cleansers who mercilessly drove innocent Azeris from their homes so that they could grab Nagorno-Karabakh. The prevailing discourse is such that a vote for Armenia would be like a vote for North Korea or Nazi Germany: it should be just unthinkable for any decent person.
Armenians, on the other hand, just aren’t threatened by the Azeris. Oh, they definitely feel a military threat from Baku, and they spend a lot of time worrying about it. And official discourse mirrors the other side: Azeris are murdering monsters who tried to kill or drive out the Armenians who had lived there since etc. etc. But the average Armenian’s attitude towards Azeris is somewhere between “sneering contempt” and “genial, chuckling contempt”. They just don’t take them seriously. There’s a pretty good quote from a Yasha Levine article a couple of years back:
“Did you know that Azerbaijan is doubling its military budget and threatening to take back Karabakh by force?” I asked Ruslan.
He just shrugged his shoulders.
“So what if they spend more money on their military than we do, it doesn’t mean anything. Let them spend ten times more, it won’t matter. The Turks don’t have a mind for machinery. They don’t know how to operate it and when they break it, they don’t know how to fix it. They’re horrible mechanics and engineers. Right now, all of their machinery is rusting out,” he said coolly.
“So you call Azeris Turks?” I asked.
He smiled. “No, not Turks. Defective Turks.”
In that context, voting for Azerbaijan is odd, but not unthinkable. Vote for the Azeri singers? Well, if you must… she is pretty, isn’t she?
Anyway. Azerbaijan is a wannabe police state, the Nagorno conflict is intractable. Not really news. But once again, we see the power of Eurovision! And that’s always worth reporting.