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Azerbaijani Film Festival Canceled In Armenia After Protests

Protest Against Azerbaijani Film Festival In Armenia
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A crowd of protesters rallied in Gyumri to voice their anger over a plan to hold an Azerbaijani film festival. The signs read: "No Azerbaijani Film Festival!" Mayor Vardan Ghukasian can also be seen exhorting the crowd.

A festival of Azerbaijani films was canceled in Armenia's second-largest city, Gyumri, following protests.

The festival had been scheduled to open on April 12 but was called off after dozens of protesters blocked the festival venue.

The event was organized by the Armenia-based Caucasus Center for Peace-Making Initiatives and also had the support of the U.S. and British embassies in Yerevan.

Giorgi Vanyan, the chairman of the center, was allowed to leave the festival venue only after announcing that the event would be called off.

One video posted on YouTube shows Vanyan being physically assaulted on the street outside the festival venue.

As festival organizers noted on their website:

"The Azerbaijani Film Festival in Armenia has been blocked as a result of a terror and blackmailing [campaign] carried out by pressure groups that try to disguise their actions by an alleged 'wave of public outrage.' The organizers and potential viewers of the festival received threats of physical revenge through the Internet and phone."

Vanyan apologized for the cancellation and said organizers will try to reschedule the festival:

"In particular, we will continue to create an atmosphere of open and direct communication in spite of the current propaganda and terror aimed at distorting human values and denying healthy civilized relations."

Vanyan has accused Gyumri Mayor Vardan Ghukasian of having a hand in exacerbating the protests and tension surrounding the festival.

A similar initiative to hold a festival of Azerbaijani films in 2010 in Yerevan also failed.

A total of four short films shot in Azerbaijan in 2007 and 2008 -- three feature films and one documentary -- were to be shown.

Vanyan reported on his Facebook page that the films were eventually screened for a few dozen audience members at a venue outside the city. Another showing is scheduled for April 17 in Vanadzor.

Armenia and Azerbaijan remain locked in a dispute over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is populated almost entirely by ethnic Armenians. The region was the site of a 1988-94 war that killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands. An uneasy cease-fire is in effect. The region declared unilateral independence in 1991 and has maintained de facto autonomy.

-- RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services

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