Relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are tense over the right of self-determination of Nagorno Karabakh, a de facto Republic with Armenian majority that wants to live independent of Azerbaijan. The case is similar to Kosovo and Southern Sudan, which recently gained their independence with international backing.
Last year Azeri representatives won the Eurovision song contest and according to the rules this year the Eurovision 2012 will be held in Baku. Despite tense relations the Armenian side made an official application in line with its policy of supporting people contacts and public diplomacy. The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia released a joint statement at their latest meeting in Sochi aimed to achive just that: confidence consolidation between the two nations.
Yet, according to media sources, such as BBC and Radio Liberty the Armenian side boycotted its participation in Eurovision because of Azerbaijan's president's anti Armenian remark on March 1 that "the Armenians of the world" are his nation's main enemy. After this remark Armenian withdrew its application and the world media noticed it.
Today, there seems to be a reversal on the Azeri side. Elman Abdullayev, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan, released a statement to News.Az stating "we treat the Armenians normally enough and don’t have towards them ... hostile attitude." News.az continues that "according to the spokesman, Armenians living in Azerbaijan are provided with all conditions and even the Armenian church located in the centre of Baku was restored recently."
Armenian media has picked up the statement has called it a contradiction by Azeri MFA to its president's remark. "Azerbaijan's MFA Contradicts Ilham Aliyev," writes one of the leading onlines newspapers in Armenia 1in.am.
Overall Armenia has a point. You can't participate and sing in a country where the president, according to media reports, calls the entire nation Azerbaijan's "main enemy." Before that statement the Armenians had submitted an application to participate in Baku and it has been widely supported in the country.
Can't stay enemies forever
At this point perhaps it would help the case if Azerbaijan sent extra reassurances that despite disagreement over Karabakh the two nations are not enemies. Azerbaijan is the host country, it can do this and would be a great way to demonstrate a warm Caucasian hospitality. The more Armenian and Azeri artists travel to each other's country the better for building trust and restoring confidence. The public diplomacy will build that base, that support upon which the three sides can strike a deal and reach an agreement on Karabakh. This view was also stated and supported by EU foreign ministers on their Conclusions on South Caucasus. Promoting trade relations, facilitating travel and starting of transformative and approximation work is key to the conflict's final resolution.
Few weeks ago there was a meeting held in Moscow between Armenian, Azeri and Russian intelligentsia representatives. The Editor of one of Armenia's leading newspapers Aravot, Aram Abrahamyan, who participated in that meeting wrote a great editorial titled "Let’s Not Leave It to the Next Generation."
Abrahamyan writes that at the meeting the representatives of the three nations were listening to a poem sited by a leading Russian poet. " I thought that it was interesting, pleasant for Armenians and Azerbaijanis of my generation (certainly, some layer), because we read the Youth magazine in our childhood, the editor of which was Dementyev for many years, because we were citizens of a big country and at the end of the day we speak the language, in which the poet writes. And our children who have grown up in two independent countries obviously meet none of those conditions. Some things unite Azerbaijani intellectual and me and we can talk on the cultural foundation that was laid in our school and college days. If the alienation and enmity between our peoples are retained, I cannot imagine how, on what foundation our children will communicate. That is why I think that it is not right to hand our conflict over to the next generation – everything will be much harder for them."
At the end of the day, how nice would it be if the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev called the president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and said something like - despite everything we would be glad and would love to see the Armenian representative singing in Baku. Now that could be a start of a new chapter between the two nations.
Image source of Azerbaijan's capital Baku: Wikipedia