Azeri witchhunt over Eurovision votes

Shaun Walker
Wednesday 19 August 2009 00:00
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Security forces in Azerbaijan have launched a campaign against dozens of citizens for voting for the wrong entry in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Authorities in the oil-rich country are apparently tracking down people who voted for Azerbaijan's bitter enemy Armenia in the competition held in May.

The two countries fought a vicious war in the 1990s over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is now under the control of ethnic Armenians but is claimed by Azerbaijan. All borders between the two countries remain closed and tensions remain high, even over such a seemingly insignificant event as Eurovision.

Rovshan Nasirli, a resident of Azerbaijan's capital Baku, was one of 43 people in the country to vote for Armenia's entry "Jan-Jan", sung by the duo Inga and Anush. He told Radio Liberty that he had been summoned to the country's national security ministry last week to explain himself.

"They wanted an explanation for why I voted for Armenia. They said it was a matter of national security," said Mr Nasirli, who voted by text message. "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."

This year's contest, which was held in Moscow and won by Norway, was already the most politicised in the history of Eurovision. Georgia, which fought a war with Russia last summer, refused to take part in the contest after it was told to change the lyrics of its entry. The song, entitled "Don't Want to Put in", was widely seen as a pun on the surname of Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and thus broke contest rules that songs cannot be political.

Luckily for Mr Nasirli, he had a cast-iron excuse for voting for Inga and Anush. He didn't like the Azerbaijani entry, which featured an Iranian singer based in Sweden, and voted for Armenia because the song actually sounded "more Azeri".

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