Azerbaijan slams Armenian boycott of Eurovision
BERLIN - Agence France-PresseAzerbaijan’s foreign minister hit out Wednesday at the politicisation of the Eurovision song contest which his country hosts in May, after bitter enemy Armenia decided to boycott the event. “The Eurovision song contest should not be politically exploited and especially not in this conflict,” Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told the German daily Die Welt. He was referring to the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh over which Azerbaijani and Armenian forces fought a war in the 1990s which left some 30,000 people dead. Despite years of negotiations since the 1994 ceasefire, no final peace deal has yet been signed. “The Nagorny Karabakh region is part of our national territory and has been occupied by Armenia for 20 years, despite all the United Nations resolutions which call for a withdrawal of the Armenian military,” Mammadyarov added. He said that although negotiations had failed until now, Azerbaijan was ready for further talks to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Armenia’s state broadcaster announced last week that the country was pulling out of the 2012 Eurovision song contest, saying there was “no logic to sending a participant to a country where he will be met as an enemy.” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in the same newspaper Wednesday that staging a boycott was no solution. “I’m against prematurely making calls for boycotts of events like a football tournament or a song contest, which don’t have much to do with politics,” he told Die Welt. “We should use these events to create a critical public, to enter discussions with people and to stand for our democratic compass of values,” the minister, who is to visit Azerbaijan Thursday as part of a tour of the Caucasus, said. Berlin’s top human rights official has echoed calls by a group of Azerbaijani rights organisations for the release of alleged political prisoners before the pop extravaganza in Baku. Mammadyarov said democratisation, as well as respect for human rights and the rule of law, were political priorities for Azerbaijan. “There are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan, nobody is locked up here because of his views,” he added. “No one outlaws freedom of speech.”
The Azerbaijani authorities have consistently rejected rights groups’ accusations that free speech in the country is seriously limited by restrictive legislation, official censorship, punitive prosecutions and assaults on journalists. Azerbaijani singers Ell and Nikki won Eurovision in the western German city of Duesseldorf in May 2011, giving the oil-rich ex-Soviet state the right to host the contest this year.