Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Eurovision, and Strategy

Azerbaijan's Eurovision 2011 win means that country will be hosting Eurovision 2012 on its own turf. The problem is that Azerbaijan is at war with another country that regularly sends Eurovision delegations: Armenia. The war is often described as a "frozen conflict"; the two countries are sort of like struggling arm-wrestlers, neither of whom can overcome the other one. The fuss is over a territory in Azerbaijan called the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR), which is occupied by ethnic Armenians and that operates as a de facto country, although it technically exists on Azerbaijani soil (naturally, in playing the public-relations game the NKR presents itself as a country). Flare-ups regularly occur around the NKR border, with casualties from time to time.

The consequence is that neither Armenian nationals, nor people in other countries who are of Armenian descent, and nobody at all whose passport shows signs of its owner having made a visit to the NKR (excepting diplomatic work), are allowed entry into Azerbaijan. This presents a fascinating political dilemma when it comes to Azerbaijan hosting Eurovision 2012. How can Azerbaijan bar an Armenian delegation from competing at Eurovision, a contest whose peace-and-love-trumps-politics idealism is captured by its heart-shaped logo?

Rumors have started to circulate that Armenia might boycott Eurovision 2012. It's interesting that one of the people advancing these rumors is Ismayil Omarov, general director of Azerbaijan's Public TV & Radio Broadcasting Company, who stated in a press conference on Tuesday, "As regards the involvement of Armenian representatives in this contest, I have been informed that the Armenians said they would not participate in the contest when asked about it. If this is really so, then I regret it..."

That's a pretty fishy thing to put out there; a rumor that even Mr. Omarov confesses is hearsay. It's like a right-wing radio host saying, "I hear that Barack Obama boils and eats babies. If this is really so, then I regret it."

No doubt, Mr. Omarov's rumor is the product of wishful thinking on his end. The best thing that could happen for Azerbaijan is for Armenia to boycott Eurovision 2012. Then, Azerbaijan can conduct business-as-usual, no longer forced to confront the complicated issue of permitting travel for Armenians into Azerbaijan. Armenia will imagine that it is making a big statement, when in fact few will really notice their absence.

(To the rest of the world, an Armenian boycott would only affirm what we already know, which is that Armenia and Azerbaijan do not get along. So what is the value of making that obvious statement? Also, you can be the elephant in the room so long as you remain in it, but once you walk out, how quickly you are forgotten.)

So may I make a suggestion? From the Armenian perspective, the best thing to do right now is wait and think. While doing so, Armenia holds all the cards, whereas to boycott is to fold one's hand. There is plenty of time to make a decision (for example, I see that Hungary did not announce their intention to participate in 2011 until December 2010).

But when the time for action comes, it seems the most sensible thing for Armenia to do is to announce their intention to participate in Eurovision 2012.

From the Azerbaijani perspective, the negatives would include, obviously, a headache regarding the method for allowing Armenians into their country (if at all; though a refusal would be a public-relations nightmare for Azerbaijan). And one scenario likely to keep Azerbaijanis awake at night is the potential for Armenian would-be terrorists to make a violent statement on the international stage that is Eurovision. The security challenges would include not only the need to assure the safety of Baku's people, but to also guarantee the safety of the Armenian delegation (Azerbaijan would not want its Eurovision to go down in the history books like Munich's Olympic games of 1972).

But nothing worth doing is ever easy, and if all goes well at Eurovision 2012 it might be a positive sign that progress can be made in peacefully settling these countries' differences. A successful Eurovision 2012, with Armenia's participation, could be the start of a thaw, ever so tepid though it might be.

Something has to give in that region eventually; why not use a cheery song contest as the vehicle for releasing some of the pressure? Of course, doing so might also trigger an all-out earthquake. It's certainly a gamble, but seeing that the only alternative is a conflict seemingly frozen for perpetuity, it seems one worth making.


  1. I think they should just cancel Eurovision 2012 altogether lol. or, i think Armenia should announce participation in 2012 and create a struggle in allowing people in and out of the country, so that European leaders see that these two do not belong in Europe.

  2. I'm an incurable optimist--I think Armenia in Eurovision 2012 would do more good than bad. But I have to admit that I see no easy solution to the NKR issue--certainly not in the next year. Seems the only way that will happen would be if Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey all sat at the table together and exchanged various demands, since no two countries alone will be able to work out their differences. For example, maybe Armenia gives up its claim on the NKR in exchange for Turkish recognition of the Armenian holocaust, and--I don't know--maybe Turkey signs a generous long-term oil deal with Azerbaijan as a concession. Just making this up; I'll let the real politicians figure it out. Oh wait, they don't seem to be figuring it out. Send me in! I'll negotiate a peace settlement! :-D

    But cancel Eurovision 2012? How could the world live without such titanic artistic achievements as Eric Saade's "Popular"?

  3. Eurovision... "a contest whose peace-and-love-trumps-politics idealism? You gotta be kidding me, man.