BAKU (Reuters) - An Azeri man said Tuesday he had been asked by the authorities to explain why he voted for the entry of arch-rival Armenia in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Forty-three Azeris voted for the song “Jan Jan” by Armenian duo Inga and Anush in the May contest, despite lingering animosity between Muslim Azeris and Christian Armenians stemming from a war over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s.
A representative of Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry confirmed voters were questioned, but declined further comment.
Rovshan Nasirli, a resident of the Azeri capital Baku, told Reuters he was asked about his vote by authorities in the tightly-run Caucasus state last week.
“The National Security Ministry summoned me and started asking why I voted for the Armenian group, saying it’s surely unpatriotic,” he said.
“The investigator said such behavior showed I’m easily recruited. I explained that I simply voted for ‘Jan Jan’ because I liked the style, not for political reasons.”
Azerbaijan and Armenia remain intensely suspicious of each other 15 years after a ceasefire ended full hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenian-backed separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The region threw off Baku’s rule with the collapse of the Soviet Union but a full peace deal has proved elusive. Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces frequently exchange fire over a tense front line.
Rich in oil and gas, Azerbaijan is tightly controlled by President Ilham Aliyev and is frequently criticized by human rights groups for stifling free speech and democracy.
“Jan Jan” finished 10th in the 2009 Eurovision contest in Moscow, seven places behind Azerbaijan’s entry “Always” by Aysel and Arash. The winner was Norway’s “Fairytale” sung by Alexander Rybak.
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Andrew Dobbie