Armenia: Bloggers Criticize Public TV Eurovision Coverage

This post is part of our special coverage Eurovision Azerbaijan 2012.

No stranger to controversy since Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan entered Eurovision in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively, this year's international music competition held in Baku, Azerbaijan, was perhaps the most talked about in years.

With the country's poor human rights record under increased scrutiny from international bodies, much of the media's attention on the song contest naturally centered around that. However, also of interest to regional observers was how the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh would play out.

Eurovision logo

Eurovision logo

To begin with, there was some hope that Armenia might participate in the song contest, but that soon faded when Azerbaijan's foe in the region instead pulled out. Ostensibly linked to the death of an Armenian serviceman, at first reportedly the result of Azerbaijani sniper fire, that soon turned out to be false when it transpired Albert Adibekyan had instead been killed by a fellow soldier.

Hastily finding another reason to withdraw, incurring a fine from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in the process, Armenia was also informed that failure to broadcast without interruption the final in Baku would result in disqualification next year.

Announced only at the last minute, few Armenians knew about the broadcast of the final on Armenian Public TV, but for those that did tune in on 26 May, what they encountered was a barrage of anti-Azerbaijani propaganda from a political commentator rather than one specialized in culture or music.

Concerned by yet another example of the information war waged between the two countries, some Armenian bloggers such as Global Chaos spoke out against the negatively politicized coverage.

[…] Because Armenia was too late to withdraw (well past the deadline), it was to be fined; and more importantly, the Armenian Public TV had to broadcast – live – the contest in full, with the public having no right to vote for the contestants. Had Armenia not complied, it would have been disqualified and barred from participation in 2013, as well. There was some uncertainty over whether the Public TV should be broadcasting the contest, but it eventually confirmed that it would.

EBU is against politicization of the contest? Yeah, right…

Some three-four hours of uninterrupted streaming of what is obviously Azeri promotion (propaganda?) live on Armenia's Public TV? In return, instead of going the traditional way and choosing well-known TV hosts for the occasion, the Armenians decided to get Gohar Gasparyan (head of Armenia's Eurovision delegation) and Artur Grigoryan (Public TV's foremost analyst on Azeri and Nagorno Karabakh affairs) as local commentators throughout the broadcast.

The blog also noted how the propaganda that followed at times bordered on the ridiculous, especially when it came to a small video intermission showing Azerbaijanis celebrating Novruz, a Zoroastrian festival predating Christianity by several hundred years, with eggs and fire:

There were other remarks – plain wrong – confusing Nowruz’ dyed eggs and jumping over fire (both, typical Zoroastrian traditions, still practiced in Azerbaijan) with Christian Easter eggs and the equivalent Armenian tradition of jumping over the fire during the Candlemas (or Hypapante; or Tearendaraj) festivities. Thus, they indirectly claimed such traditions for Armenians only, not knowing – or pretending to not know – that there are their equivalents in the Azerbaijani tradition as well. There was also a lot said about the use of “traditional Armenian duduk” and “zurna”, carpets (and their patterns), folk dances and costumes, art, and even horses.


In short, the commentary, although reserved at times, was all but apolitical. There were instances, though, where I wondered if the hosts even knew what they were talking about. Why did they have to play so dumb? Why make proprietary statements about a much wider culture shared beyond borders, without any consideration of the fact that once, in the distant past, there were no borders at all…? Why feed into already bubbling nationalism?

Well, that was the very point, wasn't it? The public is already predisposed to selective perception and anti-Azeri processing of information, and with a little help from the commentators, Public TV tried to turn this disaster into their own version of the anti-Azeri Eurovision propaganda. It might have worked with the majority.

I just hope that there were some, not just among the Armenian audience, who would lament (along with me) the loss of this great opportunity: the opportunity to see (for many, for the first time) that the “Azeri” culture is not really all that different from the “Armenian” one; that there is much shared by the people; and that there is “dolma” on the other side of the border, too (and no, it is really not just Armenian).

Making Connections was also another Armenian blog concerned by the coverage:

“A few buildings, a bit of culture and some clouds. What all this has to do with the ‘Land of Fire’ I don’t know,” said one of the announcers on Armenian Public TV, commenting on the images of Azerbaijan shown between acts of the Grand Final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest held on May 26 in Baku. And so began the tirade of superfluous remarks and ridicule by Armenian hosts on the H1 channel, which decided to air the contest even though the country had opted not to participate this year.


[…] what was supposed to be a fun, entertaining, perhaps even peace-making affair turned out to be another tool for the state to “prove” how much superior we are to the “enemy” — in short, to engage in further propaganda.

And though many readers might disagree with me, after all, it could’ve been much worse, I believe H1 and the hosts could’ve done a better job of bridging the divide between our two countries and used this unique opportunity to highlight the similarities, especially in culture, instead of the differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

With tensions continuing to rise between the two countries, it remains to be seen how Eurovision will next become a staging ground for conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But, even if that seems inevitable, some Armenian and Azerbaijani bloggers have at least chosen to speak out against the ongoing propaganda war that has sometimes proven to be as much of an impediment to peace as tensions on the front line itself.

This post is part of our special coverage Eurovision Azerbaijan 2012.

1 comment

  • VTiger

    Fine,great & beautiful.However you should have as well mentioned what the Azeris did during last year’s Euro vision…when they chased,interrogated & imprisoned some of their citizens who had voted for Armenia.Criticism & proper coverage is great but please be fair as well by writing what the other side is doing.

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