YEREVAN -- Citing an "anti-Armenian" statement made by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenia has officially announced its decision not to participate in Europe's most popular song contest, which will be held in Baku in May.
Armenian Public Television, which selects the country's participants for the annual Eurovision Song Contest, attributed the boycott to Aliyev's March 1 remark that "the Armenians of the world" are his nation's main enemy.
"Although the Azerbaijani authorities promised security guarantees for all participating countries, Azerbaijan's president 'made an exception' for one of those countries several days ago, declaring that Azerbaijan's No. 1 enemy is the Armenians scattered around the world," the state-run broadcaster said in a statement.
"We can conclude that the president of a Eurovision host country is officially stating that all Armenians, including those who would be included in the Eurovision delegation, are the enemies of Azerbaijan. Therefore, it would make no sense to send our participant to a country where they would be received as an enemy.
"We are convinced that the atmosphere created by this and other anti-Armenian statements and actions cannot ensure equal conditions for all singers participating in Eurovision," the statement said.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organizer of the annual contest watched by tens of millions of TV viewers, was quick to express disappointment over the decision.
Ell and Nikki of Azerbaijan celebrate on stage after winning the Eurovision Song Contest final in Duesseldorf in May 2011.
"We are truly disappointed by the broadcaster's decision to withdraw from this year's Eurovision Song Contest," the contest's executive supervisor, Jon Ola Sand, said in a statement posted on the EBU's website.
"Despite the efforts of the EBU and the host broadcaster to ensure a smooth participation for the Armenian delegation in this year's contest, circumstances beyond our control led to this unfortunate decision," he said.
Azerbaijan won the right to stage the 2012 edition of Eurovision in Baku thanks to the victory of an Azerbaijani duo in last year's contest held in Duesseldorf, Germany. Armenian Public Television has since made its participation in the Baku show conditional on firm security guarantees by the Azerbaijani government.
Some of Armenia's leading pop singers and composers spoke out against Armenia's participation late last month. One of them, Artur Grigorian, director of the State Music Theater in Yerevan, welcomed the boycott, citing the unresolved conflict over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"We can't go to a country that currently holds [several] Armenian soldiers as prisoners," Grigorian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service. "I'm saying this as a citizen, not as a composer or artist. I just don't want to see an Armenian singer sing on that soil."