A Eurovision story

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,” Nasirli said. “They 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.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture and tagged , by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

17 thoughts on “A Eurovision story

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Azerbaijan: Another Eurovision controversy

  2. Sad. Meanwhile, good point from Oliver, but it has to be said that in this case whether the Azerbaijani authorities continue to perpetuate hatred towards Armenians, what the police have done is illegal — not only in terms of the local law (there is no law prohibiting Azeris from voting for Armenian entries is there?) and also in violation of Eurovision rules and obligations (something they already broke — see http://osservatoriocaucaso.org/article/articleview/11363/1/407/). One supposes Eurovision now have to act and perhaps even throw Azerbaijan out of the competition until this changes.

    Of course, we could look on the bright side of this story. Despite NOT displaying the number to vote for the Armenian entry in Azerbaijan, a number of Azeris worked it out for themselves and did so anyway. If that happens, there’s hope, but let’s face it, I doubt many will vote for Armenia next year given this news. Meanwhile, Aliyev had better get his story right. Does he want peace or not?

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  4. There are Armenians all over southeastern Europe. They know how to arrange themselves.
    Oliver: I once flew from SFO to FRA to continue to BG. Next to me was a young Armenian (in his 30s), worked in finance in SF. We chatted all flight long. He said he lived in Baku in the 80s and the family had to flee. First to Moscow, then to the US. He sounded very forgiving. I guess his life in the US worked out great, but I would have expected a longer memory for keeping scores.

  5. The more I learn about that region, the more I want to replace the term ‘Caucasian’ with something non-stigmatizing like ‘Cracker’.

  6. I’m still trying to figure out why Azerbaijan is in the Eurovision contest. Come to think of it, Armenia’s participation is a bit questionable too.

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  12. ”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”

    Growing up in Greece I was fed stories of ‘the genocide of armenians by Turks’ and now I read that the Armenians have done the same to Azerbaijanis? Even irony becomes a cliche with the information from the ‘global village’;/

  13. oh, I haven’t watched this years Eurovision cause as a Greek I will be ashamed to face my Euro bros for a while

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