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Armenia withdraws from Eurovision Song Contest amid growing controversy

Controversy surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest is usually confined to the poor quality of some of the entries, and stitch ups between neighboring countries over the judging.

But, this year, it has got more serious because the hosting was awarded to Azerbaijan, which has a controversial human rights record criticized by Amnesty International among others. The country also fought a bloody war with neighboring Armenia in the 1990s during which 25,000 people were killed. Armenia has now withdrawn from this year’s Eurovision to be staged in May in protest, citing a speech by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev on Feb 28 in which he stated that his country’s “main enemies are Armenians of the world, and the hypocritical and corrupt politicians under their control.”

Despite this, the EBU, as the organizer, has remained in denial over the controversy, with Ingrid Deltenre, its Director General, merely issuing the statement, "it's disappointing when any member drops out, especially at this stage of the competition. Excitement is building, and Armenia's contribution will be missed. We look forward to their participation in future."

The EBU’s argument for allowing Azerbaijan to host its flagship event is the old one that a country is more likely to improve its human rights if it is included rather than ostracized. Amnesty International is putting this to the test by urging Azerbaijan in its capacity as host nation of the Song Contest to “address the unsavory truth of its record on human rights and release 16 prisoners of conscience held since April 2011 in the wake of anti-government protests.”

It remains to be seen whether this will happen.