Who’s Bad? Azeri nationalism meets Eurovision

August 29, 2009 at 4:28 pm (media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Two weeks ago, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on poor Rovshan Nasirli’s run in with the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry.  Nasirli’s crime: voting for Armenia in the 2009 Eurovision song contest.  He simply liked Armenia’s Inga and Anoush better than the Azeri entry, which featured local unknown AySel and euro-pop star Arash.  As RFE/RL reports, Nasirli was grilled by the Security Ministry about the motivation for his choice.  Before we continue, please decide YOUR vote:

The RFE/RL article does a good job putting Nasirli’s uncomfortable visit to the Ministry into context, summing up Aliyev Jr.’s gradual crack down on civil liberties and explaining the antagonism between Armenia and Azerbaijan over NK.

Maybe I am late to the game, but the thing that popped out at me was Azerbaijan’s pick of Arash to begin with.  I used to love remix of back in 2006, and know the man was born in Iran and famous in Sweden.  But the plot thickens: Arash’s grandfather is from the Iranian Azerbaijan.  While Arash was clearly brought in (at what cost, I would like to know) to lend star power to the Azeri entry, I cannot help but question what role his Persian Azeri heritage played in Azerbaijan’s selection.

Azerbaijan, the country, and Azerbaijan, the region of Iran, have been separated for nearly two centuries as Russia and Persia divvied up the region.  Nevertheless, some Azeri’s make irredentist claims on Persian Azerbaijan.  According to Merriam Webster, irredentism is “a political principle or policy directed toward the incorporation of [territories] within the boundaries of their historically or ethnically related political units.”  Basically – you lay claim to land in someone else’s country because you have a good reason to do so.  It always struck me how Azerbaijan and Armenia have this whole irredentist thing in common – Azerbaijan fiends for Iran’s Azerbaijan and Armenia for Karabagh.  Regardless of how realistic their respective irredentist dreams may be, at least some politicians and countrymen from both states are after territory in another country, and that makes them similar.



I do not know if Arash identities himself as Azeri, or Persian Azeri, but his presence in the song contest feels like a little shot of irredentism.  I know it is a bit of a stretch – but one too tempting to ignore.  Azerbaijan’s Eurovision selection committee must have made this connection.  (If so, I am also intrigued by their reigning in of diasporan talent.  Does this mean that Armenia will be entering Cher for Eurovision 2010?)  However, if Azerbaijan was attempting to use Arash to foment irridentism, then their plan appears to have backfired.  When the National Security Ministry asked Nasirli about his choice, the Baku resident replied, “I voted for Armenia to protest the fact that Arash was representing Azerbaijan.  Also, the Armenian song was closer to Azerbaijani style than Arash’s song.” For Nasirli, Arash is just not Azeri and, if we can trust Nasirli’s knowledge of music, Armenians and Azeris have more in common than their territorial ambitions.


RFE/RL reported last week that Eurovision is investigating reports of Azerbaijani citizens being questioned over their vote in the 2009 song contest.  This past Wednesday the plot thinkened even more when an Azeri government minister accused RFE/RL of political bias in favor of Armenia.  RFE/RL’s Azerbaijan bureau cheif was also accused of voting for Armenia.



  1. John Simeone said,

    I am very much enjoying your blog! Hope all is well. Oh, and Восточные сказки by Arash и блестящие has been a top favorite of mine…

  2. Changes « UNFASHIONABLY LATE said,

    […] Today I’m reading the requisite Clifford Geertz to prepare for tomorrow’s classes, so no big updates. Instead, why don’t you check out the newly-minted blogs of a couple of friends. At For The Commonweal Matt shares his thoughts on teaching, writing, and the academic grind in general. Katherine at Pomegranate Express muses on issues on Armenia and the Caucasus; if you’ve enjoyed my posts on Armenian music in the past, make sure to check out her post on the current Armenian-Azeri Eurovision controversy. […]

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