BAKU (RFE/RL) — It’s a simple song competition. Or is it?
The Eurovision Song Contest has long promoted itself as an event where national audiences in Europe and beyond can put politics aside and enjoy a long night of entertainment performed in the spirit of friendly competition, if not necessarily musical mastery.
But as Eurovision’s reach has traveled further east, old political rivalries are muddying the contest’s claim on good clean fun.
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.)
Azerbaijan and Armenia remain locked in a protracted dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic-Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijani territory. Relations between the two countries are poor, even as they appear to be nearing a breakthrough on Karabakh.
The official antipathy can frequently trickle down to personal bias among ordinary Armenians and Azeris. But not always.
In the case of Eurovision, Nasirli said he preferred the Armenian entry because it sounded “more Azeri” than his country’s own submission, a duet featuring Arash, a pop superstar born in Iran and based in Sweden:
“I voted for Armenia to protest the fact that Arash was representing Azerbaijan. Also, the Armenian song was closer to Azerbaijani style than Arash’s song,” Nasirli said.