Saturday, May 14, 2011

Did Azerbaijan Deserve to Win Eurovision?

From a musical perspective, many commenters on Twitter seem to think no, and I have to agree but admit it is a catchy song. But does the nation of Azerbaijan deserve to host Eurovision 2012? The answer to that is hell no. Lest you think this is sour Armenian grapes, which didn't get into the finals for the first time ever, well I'm mad at it for its extremely weak choice of song and saw its impending failure a mile away. What I'm talking about here though is Azerbaijan's downright ignominious Eurovision history since it joined in 2008.

For those who didn't know, Azerbaijan's 2009 Eurovision behavior started raising eyebrows immediately after it aired and the drama continued well into 2010. Those who saw the Azeri Eurovision stream noticed that the number to call Armenia was not showed as it was with all the other countries. This wasn't a huge hurdle to voting, because they were in a numerical order so it was easy to determine what number was for Armenia- but not showing the number to vote for Armenia was of course a breach of the rules. Lebanon was famously kicked out of Eurovision a few years before for not being able to affirm that it would air Israel's performance on its broadcast.

That was tame compared to the bizarre circus which followed though. As the BBC reported, a number of the 43 Azeris who did manage to cast a vote for Armenia despite the number being obscured were met with knocks on their door from the authorities. That's right, all because they voted for Armenia in what is almost universally lambasted as a ridiculous continental sideshow, citizens of Azerbaijan were accused of being "unpatriotic and a potential security threat" for their vote in the contest. Not denying what happened, "the Azerbaijani authorities said people had merely been invited to explain why they voted for Armenia", not intimidating or scary at all right? The article notes "Civil rights campaigners say freedom of expression is increasingly suppressed in Azerbaijan under the presidency of Ilham Aliyev", who now two years later has been seeing the biggest protests yet against his rule as a general authoritarian despot without a taste for dissent.

I also admit having no idea who "French-Syrian businessman Omar Harfouch" is, but according to this article from "The Eurovision Times" (umm that exists?) he accused Azerbaijan of cheating even worse than all that:

Azerbijan exerted pressure on jurors of several countries, paying bribes through Azerbaijani embassies in these countries. He also stated earlier that Azerbaijan had sent money to its embassies so the personal could vote for their country and influence the televote espacially in smaller countries. According to Omar Harfouch, the bribes total sum amounted to $20 million.

As I said I don't know who he is, and cannot indict Azerbaijan on the claim of one person, but it does seem to match their over-the-top Eurovision fervor. That's the worst part about all these post-Soviet countries who have joined recently, they aren't so much "in" on the Eurovision joke amongst the old guard and treat it like its the Olympics. Armenia does this to a degree as well, but Azerbaijan is by far the worst offender of conflating national power and pride with ones ranking at Eurovision. If anyone would take it serious enough to funnel its oil millions to Eurovision judges, it would likely be Azerbaijan.

What will be interesting is to see how Azerbaijan will fare with the challenge of hosting an international competition. I don't know the number of hotel rooms in Baku, but one would have to assume they will need a lot more to accommodate the influx for Eurovision. It has used its oil wealth to fuel a building boom which means it would certainly be in a better position than Armenia to meet the demand, but that is far from a guarantee that it actually can. Perhaps it will take a break from its multi-billion dollar 'defense' budget aimed at resuming war with Armenia for such a purpose? Is it too bold to suggest that winning Eurovision means the NK conflict won't be able to heat up at least another year as Azerbaijan preps for the European spotlight?

What is most interesting however is the outstanding question of Armenia. After all, in 2004 NATO exercises which were supposed to be held in Azerbaijan were canceled due to Azerbaijan refusing to allow the participation of the Armenian delegation. It was the first time these exercises ever had to be canceled and caused strain on the Azeri-NATO relationship. Azerbaijan has a well-known "no Armenian" policy within its borders, whether it regards the ancient Julfa Armenian khachkar cemetery it was videotaped destroying in the past decade, Armenian sports players (even members of third-party nations who are of Armenian descent), and just regular Armenians wherever they might be from who request a visa to visit. Foreign travelers to Azerbaijan often return with confusing stories about having the Armenia section of their Lonely Planet travel guide ripped out before being allowed to enter. I do think in the past year there was finally an officially sanctioned Armenian sports team who was able to attend a competition held in Baku, but on the whole it is clear Azerbaijan's attitude towards Armenians anywhere within its borders is chilling.

It's hard to say what will come next, but I am hoping there isn't a repeat of Georgia's boycott to perform in Russia. Armenia should seek to perform in Azerbaijan like all other countries come what may. Instead of preemptively refusing to participate, it should seek to and let Azerbaijan sort it out. If it wants to refuse Armenian participation as it usually does then it will have to pay the price, which is why I highly doubt we'd see a repeat of such behavior from Azerbaijan. Hopefully everyone can sober up and treat each other like humans, but Eurovision will definitely require extraordinary protection for any Armenian participant like it hasn't seen for a long time. It'd really be ashame for Armenia to miss out on Eurovision, regardless of where it is held, (that is unless it tries to be represented by a song like Boom Boom again!) We'll see what happens...


Anonymous said...

Yes deserve ,man

Anonymous said...

it did deserve to win , says most of Europe by voting. Check your facts .

Anonymous said...

And Malta gave 12 points yet again to Azerbaijan this year so it's pretty obvious that Azerbaijan continues their cheating tactics, plus using professional songwriters, choreography and backsingers from another country 3rd year in a row now. They can't make their own songs

ƒikri ƒadzil said...

The song is pretty decent. But I do believe many people didn't expect it coming at all... that Eurovision is going to be held in Baku!

Political games aside, I do look forward what these 2 countries will offer next year. They always send good songs.

Anonymous said...

Next armenian entry would be - Bang, bang!!