Music fans in Armenia are up in arms about what they claim was a rigged vote to nominate a singer for this year's Eurovision Song Contest.
Nine of Armenia's top musical acts were in full voice on February 14, with Eva Rivas being named Armenia's 2010 entry to Eurovision, the annual pan-European singing competition.
But many fans have alleged that foul play was involved as thousands of text message votes for Rivas's top competitor never went through.
Born Valeria Tsaturyan, the Russian-Armenian songstress Rivas won the competition for the prized spot with her English-language song "Apricot Stone."
The 22-year-old native of Rostov-na-Donu in southern Russia beat out her closest competitors, pop-rap duo Emmy & Mihran.
That, at least, is what officials are saying.
But even before the results of the competition were announced, fans of Emmy & Mihran were claiming that their text message votes for the pair had failed to go through.
Vartan Grigorian, a representative of the PR group representing Emmy & Mihran, claimed that 5,000 SMS votes had already been registered for Rivas just 30 seconds after the announcement that voting was open to the public.
At that point, he told RFE/RL's Armenian Service, the server promptly went down -- with Emmy & Mihran holding just 1,400 votes.
Armenian public television, which organized the contest, followed up on pledges to investigate. It acknowledged late on February 15 that over 30,000 texted votes had not been counted -- but said that even so, Eva Rivas still came out on top by a wide margin. They said Emmy & Mirhan came in third, behind another singer, Razmik Amyan.
The Emmy & Mirhan camp says they do not believe the figures and will mount a challenge in court.
Some fans have alleged that Rivas's win was a foregone conclusion, given the heavy support that she enjoyed from a powerful diaspora-led production team in Moscow.
"The problem is not with Eva Rivas's persona, but with people who stand behind her," said one disgruntled voter.
Emmy and her partner Mihran, who has formerly worked as a backup dancer for Madonna, sang an English-language song entitled "Hey."
When Rivas was declared the winner, the duo quickly bowed and left the stage.
Ties In High Places
At a press conference following the competition at Yerevan's Opera Theater, Rivas's Moscow-based producer, Valery Saharian, brushed aside the allegations of foul play.
"One should also be able to accept a defeat in a dignified manner," the producer told RFE/RL's Armenian Service from Moscow.
A jury vote was held alongside the telephone-based public voting for Armenia's Eurovision nominee. The members of the jury were appointed by Armenia's Culture Ministry.
Each of the votes was given equal weight in determining the winner.
Armenian public television said that the jury had given the edge to Emmy & Mihran, but maintained that the public portion of the vote sealed Rivas's victory.
Rivas, an Angelina Jolie lookalike with waist-length hair, is sponsored by Samuel Karapetyan, an influential businessman. He is the brother of Karen Karapetyan, the chief of staff of the Armenian president.
Rivas is not the only Armenian Eurovision representative with ties to high places.
The female singer Sirusho, who was announced as the country's Eurovision representative in 2008 without a selection competition, has since married the son of Armenia's former president, Robert Kocharian.
And the Armenian controversies come alongside other recent Eurovision-related controversies in the region.
Last year, Azerbaijani citizens who had voted for the Armenian song in the Eurovision contest held were called to the Security Ministry to explain their vote after the national telecommunications company offered its phone records to the authorities.
That led to an investigation by Eurovision officials and eventual rule changes concerning telephone records.
This year's Eurovision competition will be held in Oslo, Norway in May. This year will be the fifth time that Armenia is participating.
Written by RFE/RL's Armenian Service and correspondent Richard Solash