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Caucasus: Eurovision Song Contest Fever… and Politics

Sirusho

It might be considered a little cheesy by most music lovers in Europe and beyond, but countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia take participation in the annual Eurovision song contest very seriously indeed. Not only does the competition represent the South Caucasus moving closer to Europe, but given that this year has proven to be a political turbulent one for all three countries it might also provide people here with a welcome break from rigged votes and post-election unrest.

Well, maybe that's hoping a little too much. Spectacular Self-Indulgence, for example, already reports that the venue for yesterday's national final in Armenia had to be changed because of the state of emergency currently in place following clashes between the opposition and security services last weekend.

[…] The government has imposed a 20 day “State of Emergency” after eight people died in street battles between riot police and citizens who were protesting the result of a presidential election. […]

[…]

There will be a backlash, however. Mark my words. It's one thing to engage in unlawful surveillance of your political enemies. It's quite a different matter to f*** with a pop music contest.

With three frozen conflicts threatening to destabilize the entire region as well closed borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan because of one of the ethnic conflicts, politics always interferes with Eurovision. Two years ago, for example, Azerbaijan protested the participation of singer Andre from Armenia, or more precisely from the breakaway self-declared [Armenian] Republic of Nagorno Karabakh situated inside its own borders but long since removed from Azerbaijani control.

Hackers even took down Andre's official web site, and accusations have already been made that this year's Armenian entry is actually be a “stolen” Azerbaijani folk song which just led to more battles of words on the Internet.

[T]he Armenian song “Shorora” by Armenian starlet Sirusho, who is Armenia's top choice for the 2008 Eurovision competition is making a buzz around in the Caucasian corner of the internet. The reason? because Azerbaijan unknowingly or knowingly chose the same song as its debut song in the same competition and now Azeris are going nuts, demanding the song to be changed and calling us thieves. We'll pretend not to remember who stole who's culture in the 11th century.

Ironically, such rumors circulated long before singer Sirusho's entry was actually chosen by television viewers in yesterday's telephone vote. The song in question was not the one Armenia will perform, but the situation is clear. With the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh still unresolved, stakes are high, and not just because the perception of each country by European television viewers will be influenced.

It also has a lot to do with national honor and dignity as well as continuing historical conflict on new battlegrounds. The Armenian Observer comments on both aspects of Armenia's entry this year. Firstly, there is the change of venue for the national contest given that not only did Sirusho take part in the prime minister's pre-election election campaign, but also her reported romance with the outgoing president's son. Competition with Azerbaijan will likely be intense as well.

I have to say, that Eurovision has become a big deal in Armenia, and this year is also important, because, Azerbaijan will be entering the contest for the first time, and there is this feeling, that we have to at least be better then them […]

[…] None of the still functional news resources in the web seemed to report anything about Sirusho and Eurovision, probably the news is too political and can’t be published? My journalism students had made some paparazzi photos of Sirusho dating with Robert Kocharyan’s son, perhaps that has something to do with cancellation of the finals in this tense period? I hopes the internal politics is not involved at least in something as simple as the Eurovision song contest!

This will be Armenia's third attempt at the crown in Eurovision, and Georgia's second. Azerbaijan will indeed be participating for the first time and each country desperately hopes that they will come out top. If they do, the next Eurovision song contest final will be held in the winning country's capital and likely prove a huge boost to the development of tourism as well as the image of the country outside the country. Blogrel is certainly excited.

Every year I have presented my thoughts on Armenia’s Eurovision song contest chances. This song contest whilst a joke in the UK is taken seriously elsewhere and if ( !) Armenia wins would mean the chance to host the event in Yerevan. We have a national final this year, the singer is Sirusho, an excellent vocalist and with four excellent songs.

Actually, all three republics have done a pretty good job if the reaction of Eurovision bloggers outside the region is anything to go by. However, try to choose the entry which stands more of a chance of emerging victorious over the others and Armenia's Sirusho appears to take the lead. However, while music productions might have visually improved since the former Soviet Union collapsed, All Kinds Of Everything for Eurovision 2008 says that old habits die hard when it comes to performing.

Armenia […] has chosen a good song to send to Belgrade. ‘Qele Qele’ is a strong song and Sirusho put on a strong performance of the song in the final . HOWEVER,she was miming and I still have to hear her sing this song live. So, it is a great song and it has the potential to do really well, in my opinion, in Belgrade but I want to hear her sing it LIVE. Does she know she will not be able to mime in Belgrade?

Looking at Eurovision 2008… calls the song, Qele Qele, “fresh” and particularly likes the “nice arabic sounds” even if the blog considers the lyrics stupid. Georgia's entry on the other hand doesn't seem to excite many bloggers as much as Armenia's, but is nonetheless considered a decent entry by most blogs. However, some such as Eurovision Chat hopes the fact the singer is visually impaired won't influence voting.

Georgia will compete with Diana Gurtskaya and her song Peace will come. The track is pretty good, though nothing spectacular or surprising. What’s more important in this case, however, is that Ms. Gurtskaya is blind and she sings with power that we cannot witness every day on Eurovision. Still, nothing we haven’t seen on the world’s stage, and I do hope that this will not sway people into voting for this song, unless they like it.

Azerbaijan's entry, however, doesn't appear to impress cunninglittlefo.

Azerbaijan – First ever appearance at Eurovision. They held a national final and the winning team going are Elnur Gusseinov featuring Samir J. The song is called “Day after Day”. The presentation is rather great but the song is sadly rather forgetable and the opera is a little bad IMO. But make your own judgement. Thomas gives 3/10

Eurovision 2008 will take place on in Belgrade at the end of May and if you're really interested, there's even an official blog. Meanwhile, make your own minds up by checking out the videos of all three contestants from the South Caucasus below. Enjoy.

Photo: © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

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