A total of 43 Azerbaijanis voted for the Armenian duo Inga and Anush and their song “Jan-Jan” in the finale of one of Europe’s most popular television shows held in Moscow on May 16. Many of them were reportedly summoned to Azerbaijan’s Ministry of National Security and told to explain why they backed singers representing their country’s arch-foe.
“They said it was a matter of national security,” one of them, Rovshan Nasirli, told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service last week. “They were trying to put psychological pressure on me, saying things like, 'You have no sense of ethnic pride. How come you voted for Armenia?' They made me write out an explanation, and then they let me go.”
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an association of European television companies that organizes the annual contest, appears to have been alarmed by the extraordinary development. The EBU’s executive supervisor, Svante Stockselius, told the Azerbaijani APA news agency on Wednesday that it launched an inquiry last week.
“Our technical partners will also take part in the inquiry,” Stockselius was quoted as saying. “The inquiry will also enable local broadcasters to bring clarity to the matter.”
Under the EBU’s existing rules, Eurovision winners are decided by a jury of music industry specialists formed in each of the participating nations and millions of TV viewers voting by phone or by SMS. They are free to vote for any country other than their own.
Some 1,065 Armenians voted for Azerbaijan’s “Always” entry that featured an Swedish-Iranian singer and finished third in the competition. Armenia’s Inga and Anush came in tenth.
According to the BBC, Azerbaijani authorities confirmed that Nasirli and other people were questioned over their Eurovision votes but denied intimidating or putting pressure on them.
"If Azerbaijani parliament members can go to Armenia, then what's wrong with voting for the Armenian song in the contest?” asked Nasirli. “I told them, 'If you don't want people to vote for Armenia, then why are you in the same contest with them?'"
The case has also set off alarm bells in Azerbaijan's rights community. Activist Avaz Hasanov called the move "unbelievable" and warned that Azerbaijan, which has already seen a steady clampdown on civil rights under President Ilham Aliyev, is moving toward a police state.
“Limiting people's choices in such an obvious manner won't do any good for the country,” Hasanov told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service. “If all SMS and phone conversations are being screened, then this country is nothing more than a police state, with people being watched all the time.”