Eurovision 2012: Singing in the Lion’s Den

Over the last half-decade we’ve all been enjoying our home nation’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest as we finally became able to engage with it through our own roots. Grouping together in front of a TV to cheer Armenia on and sit nervously as the points tally up has become a much anticipated annual event. This year, however, Armenia will not be taking part.

Circumstances of this year’s contest are very different to those of the preceding 6 owing to the simple fact that it will take place in Azerbaijan: a neighbouring country with which we have less than friendly relations on a governmental level. Whether or not we should put politics aside in the interest of participating in this cultural exchange and spirited competition has been a question much debated since Azerbaijan claimed the top spot in last year’s contest. Up until a few weeks ago it could’ve gone either way, but the decision to not participate came on March 7th.

The scales were tipped massively toward this conclusion after comments from Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, only a few days prior. In a speech on February 28th, Aliyev stated outright that “our [Azerbaijan’s] main enemies are Armenians of the world”.

It gets no clearer than this. The message unmistakably proclaims that Armenians would not be welcome in that country. Let us for a second sweep politics – namely the “disputed” MKR issue – to the side; this statement alone stands as reason enough to refrain from taking part in the contest. It calls into question the treatment our delegates might receive; their security, and their general state of mind knowing that they’re essentially in the lion’s den.

The timing of this very blunt comment may also be of no coincidence. Aliyev, knowing that Armenia was still contemplating, perhaps wanted to ensure once and for all that Armenians would not be taking part. Maybe he and those around him were uneasy about Armenia gaining good publicity. Maybe they were intimidated by Armenia’s bright record at the Eurovision Song Contest. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Baku couldn’t stand the thought of Armenia gaining positive exposure to the world; being applauded, awarded and loved on Azerbaijani soil.

This incident isn’t the first time in our history that politics has interfered with a competition. In 2009, President Serzh Sarkisian visited Turkey to attend a football match between our countries – a decision which was met with heavy criticism. This was only days after the Protocols were signed and many Armenians were not only bitter about that, but had also lost some faith in the Armenian leadership.

The decision was made as a matter of principle: you wouldn’t join a friend at the party of someone whom you know despises your very existence. Scale this up to a national level and it becomes a far more sinister matter.

In the few years we’ve been a part of the competition we can be proud of our level of success – let’s not forget winning the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2010, which awarded us the honour of hosting it the following year. We are a People well-endowed in musical culture and we will continue to demonstrate this to the world so long as we are welcome in the competition. This year, we are not.

— Heros Jojaghaian

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