Iran and West Find Common Ground

News Commentary – May 24, 2012

They may be at odds over its nuclear ambitions but on one issue at least Iran and the West concur.
The problem for both is Azerbaijan and it has been revealed by what many in Europe at least regard as a “Carnival of kitsch”: the Eurovision Song Contest.
The annual song contest draws competitors from around Europe and beyond but this year it has also brought unwelcome scrutiny and criticism to the host nation: Azerbaijan.
Iran has withdrawn its ambassador from Azerbaijan after criticising its hosting of the annual song contest, which Iranian clerics claim is little better than a “gay parade”.
In response anti-Iranian protesters took to the streets in Azerbaijan’s capitol of Baku carrying banners, which read: “Azerbaijan does not need clerics-homosexuals!”
Azerbaijan’s officials seemed equally as offended.
“I do not know who got this idea into their heads in Iran,” said Ali Hasanov, head of the public and political issues department in Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s administration.
But he continued: “We are hosting a song contest, not a gay parade.”
Nonetheless, criticism of Azerbaijan isn’t just coming from Iranian “hardliners”. It’s also coming from the supposedly “enlightened” West too.
Even the BBC broadcast a documentary on Azerbaijan’s hosting the Eurovision Song Contest titled: “Eurovision’s Dirty Little Secret”.
Broadcast in the week before the song contest, the film featured interviews with journalists and people evicted from their homes to make way for building the specially built arena where the Eurovision contest will be held.
“If marking human rights record, Azerbaijan would get ‘nul points,” reporter Paul Kenyon said.
The program also revealed how the country’s vast oil wealth is largely in the hands of Azerbaijan’s one ruling family, presided over by President Aliyev.
Khadija Ismayilova knows all about what happens if you get on the wrong side of President Aliyev. An investigative journalist, she uncovered several corruption scandals linked to Mr Aliyev’s family, including a report released this week revealing how Azerbaijan’s first family has benefited financially from the construction of the Eurovision stadium.
Last month, as she was researching the story, she received a letter with stills from an intimate video in which she appeared as an unwitting participant. As it turned out, someone had broken into her house and installed a hidden surveillance camera in her bedroom.
The letter warned her “that if I didn’t stop my investigations, they would publicise the video,” she says. “They were calculating on me being ashamed and going quiet. But they miscalculated.” 
Instead she went public and she immediately came under criticism in this supposedly “conservative” country, as the intimate video was posted online.
She was not alone. Human rights campaigners, investigative journalists and anyone who voiced criticism of Azerbaijan’s rulers have all faced harassment, victimisation and imprisonment.
The filmmakers of “Eurovision’s Dirty Little Secret” also confronted Engelbert Humperdinck, Britain’s contender in this year’s song contest,  grilling the 76-year-old singer about how he felt taking part in a contest that was being used as a PR presentation for Azerbaijan’s ruling family.
Of course in the wider scheme of things, Azerbaijan’s hosting of the Eurovision song Contest means very little. But the fact that the BBC and Iran are both in agreement on this one issue should tell us one thing: something is very seriously wrong with the State of Azerbaijan.
No doubt if Azerbaijan were officially part of a coalition against Iran we wouldn’t be hearing such criticism from the BBC. Right now however, it isn’t part of any official coalition, at least not yet. Meaning that for now the BBC is at liberty to throw whatever criticism it likes at Azerbaijan.
If the face-off between Iran and the West develops further however, expect that to change though.

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