It was a big surprise and even became sensation that Azerbaijan became the winner of the 2011 Eurovision. Europe finished voting about four hours ago and crowned Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Jamal (Ell / Nikki) with the song "Running Scared" from Azerbaijan as this year's winner. The second and third places were shared by Italy and Sweden respectively. Azerbaijan received 221 points, Italy's Raphael Gualazzi with "Madness Of Love" receive 189 points and Sweden's Eric Saade with "Popular" received 185 points.
What will this victory mean for Azerbaijan and the region in South Caucasus in general?
Azerbaijan is neighboring Iran and located in a volatile region torn by ethnic conflicts and human rights violations. Baku has been criticized by the European Union for worsening human rights in Azerbaijan and for jailing opposition activists and bloggers. Azerbaijan's negotiations with Armenia are not going anywhere as the Azeri authorities refuse to negotiate directly with Nagorno Karabakh, a de facto independent state yearning for the recognition of its right to self-determination. Instead, the president of Azerbaijan has been using every occasion to publicly threaten Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh with bellicose statements and resumption of war if the negotiations don't bring his desired results.
Now, all of the sudden a victory in Eurovision 2011. For a small country, still integrating in the international community after the breakup of the Soviet Union, this victory is like is such a recognition that equals to hosting Olympic Games. In fact, Azerbaijan next year in 2012 will be hosting Eurovision 2012 song festival per Eurovision's rules. The winner country gets to host the following year's festival.
Hosting Eurovision is is like a dream for a country to get attention, tourism and boost its economy. According to Wikipedia Eurovision is one of the most-watched non-sporting events in the world, with audience figures having been quoted in recent years as anything between 100 million and 600 million internationally. Host countries try to capitalize on the program and like in the case of Finland, it is common to see the presentation interspersed with video footage of touristic destinations from the host country as if advertising for tourism. "The contest is considered to be a unique opportunity for promoting the host country as a tourist destination. In the summer of 2005, Ukraine abolished its normal visa requirement for visitors from the EU to coincide with its hosting of the event," reads the public encyclopedia.
Surely, Azerbaijan needs to and will want to capitalize on the economic and touristic opportunity afforded by hosting Eurovision 2012. It's a matter of national pride and they will want to do the best they can to host the contest at the highest level with guaranteed security.
Yet, the security will be of concern. Human rights are worsening in Azerbaijan. Last month there were few attempts to stage democracy demonstrations in the capital Baku, which were crashed and opposition activists jailed. The president and the leadership of Azerbaijan threaten to resume war against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh if the negotiations do not reach an agreement on the final status of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev in many occasion boasted that the defense spending of Azerbaijan equals Armenia's entire state budget, hoping it gives his country the upper hand over Karabakh negotiations. Also his governing party says the opposition has been trying to stir up confrontation, which could damage the country.
Still, winning Eurovision is a great opportunity for Azerbaijan to focus on the positive. Because hosting a Eurovision contest is such a big honor and significant event, the government should ease the political repression within the country and forget about resuming war against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Instead of increasing its defense spending, the government is better to well prepare for the 2012 contest. Hopefully by then it will relieve itself from the poison of anti-Armenian hatred by focusing on the positive.
It is hoped that at least for one year there won't be any bellicose statement about resolving the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through military means. Hopefully during the process of focusing on Eurovision and the European values Azerbaijan will realize that the European values of the 21st century require to respect the self-determination right of the people of Nagorno Karabakh. Hopefully there will be a good and substantial progress toward peace agreement between Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia before hosting Eurovision 2012 so that no Armenian delegate has second thoughts if he or she should participate in Baku and no Eurovision official think twice if they need to relocate the destination of the 2012 contest because of human rights and security reasons.
Congratulations to Azerbaijan and its people. This victory is good for this country. This victory is good for peace in South Caucasus.