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No Saturday Night Fever, As Armenia Mulls Eurovision Blackout

It's possible that Armenians won't get the chance to check out Azerbaijan's lavish preparations for this year's Eurovision.
It's possible that Armenians won't get the chance to check out Azerbaijan's lavish preparations for this year's Eurovision.
Say you find yourself in Armenia on May 26 and you fancy a little Saturday-night TV.

There's "TV Restaurant," a competition between local lounge singers, the "Armenians of the World" documentary series, or the comedy show "Vitamin Club," which promises to "heal everyone with healthy humor and laughter."

But the one thing that might not be on? The Eurovision Song Contest, a once-a-year musical megaspectacle that is expected to draw more than 125 million viewers worldwide as it crowns a new country the king of frothy, and often forgettable, pop.

Armenia, which first competed in Eurovision in 2006, has shown little enthusiasm for this year's contest, which is being hosted by its neighbor and nemesis, Azerbaijan.

Yerevan in March announced it was pulling out of the competition, citing a statement by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in which he referred to "the Armenians of the world" as his nation's main enemy.

The decision meant an end to the Eurovision dreams of Armenian musicians competing for the right to represent their country, including the band Dorians with their song "This is Our World."

Eurovision officials were quick to penalize Armenia for the pullout, saying it was still obligated to pay its full participation fees as well as a hefty fine.

They added that Armenia's H1 public television station, a member of the European Broadcasting Union, which runs Eurovision, must broadcast the May 26 final "live, with no interruptions," or be banned outright from next year's Eurovision contest.

Playing It Cool

The threat of exclusion from Europe's biggest party might strike fear in many countries, but Armenia is playing it cool, saying it has yet to decide whether or not it will broadcast the final.

When speaking to RFE/RL's Armenian Service late last week, the head of Armenia's delegation to Eurovision, Gohar Gasparyan, declined to comment on when a decision would be made.

"All I can say is that we'll probably show the contest," she said. "I'd like to state once again that there has been no penalty or sanction here. These are just points that we are obliged to follow. I think the winner [of this year's contest] will be a country that won't pose any further problems in terms of our participation."

Eurovision isn't the only global event that Armenia is taking a pass on.

The country also boycotted the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago, protesting a declaration adopted by the group's 28 member states that Yerevan said was biased in favor of Azerbaijan.

The declaration, which mentions the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, among other unresolved land disputes, appears to endorse the principle of territorial integrity -- a stance that suits Azerbaijan.

Armenia has long argued that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh -- who are predominantly ethnic Armenians -- should be given the right to self-determination.

Mixed Emotions

Armenians, meanwhile, appear torn about a night without Eurovision.

The Armenian singer Hayko, who represented his country at the 2007 Eurovision contest in Helsinki, said it would be "weak" of the Armenians not to show it.

"I think that it's worth showing, because regardless of where Eurovision is being held, it's still a celebration of music and is the best European song contest," he said. "As a musician, I'm very interested to see how it will look this year."

One Yerevan resident agreed, maintaining that he enjoyed watching Eurovision and hoped the broadcast would proceed.

"Yes, I would definitely watch it, even if we don't have our own person there," he said. "Eurovision is still interesting for me. Who will get what? Who will end up in what place? Which country will win the contest? That way I know where our participant will go for the next Eurovision."

One Yerevan woman claimed she had no interest in watching any event being hosted by Azerbaijan, whether it was broadcast in Armenia or not.

"Anything that's connected to Azerbaijan has nothing to do with us," she said.

If some Armenians are surviving without Eurovision, it appears Eurovision is surviving without Armenia as well.

A German DJ performing at an official Eurovision fan club meeting in Baku earlier this week was interrupted when he attempted to play Armenian music.

Such music, it was suggested, has no place in a competition that Yerevan has so roundly rejected.

"Armenia unexpectedly refused to participate in Eurovision 2012 without apologizing," said Kamran Agasy, a Eurovision spokesman. "What will our volunteers think if they suddenly hear Armenian melodies?"

Written in Prague by Daisy Sindelar, based on reporting in Yerevan by Anna Barseghian of RFE/RL's Armenian Service

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