Later this month, the eyes of the world will be focused on a shimmering glass-and-steel building newly erected on the shores of the Caspian Sea to welcome the pop stars and television crews from the more than 40 European countries that will broadcast the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 spectacle.
BAKU -- Novruz Allahverdiyev, 40, lives in a mud house in the village of Chovdar, a small mining town in the mountainous region near the border with Armenia. He is one of 800,000 internally displaced persons from the war with Armenia that battered his native Nagorno-Karabakh region in the early 1990s.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s son-in-law, pop singer Emin Agalarov, has been confirmed as an act for Baku’s staging of Eurovision, the European Broadcasting Union’s annual pop blow-out, but a senior contest executive maintains that special interests did not play a role in the decision.
In a May 2 statement, the Eurovision.tv website announced that guest acts for the May 22-26 event “combine Azerbaijan’s music and culture and are a synthesis of national traditions and modern trends.” Along with the 32-year-old Agalarov, the Azerbaijan National Dance Ensemble, mugham singer Alim Gasimov and the band Natiq will also take part.
Agalarov’s inclusion, originally announced last month by the Moscow-based singer himself, had sparked criticism about favoritism. First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva heads the organizational committee for the event, which kicks off the day after the May 21 worldwide release of Agalarov’s latest album, “After the Thunder.”
But in emailed comments on May 3, Sietse Bakker, event supervisor for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, maintained that “[t]he people who have proposed Emin as [an] interval act have only one interest: To make the best Eurovision Song Contest possible in Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan’s public broadcaster, Ictimai TV, was responsible for issuing the invitation, which had to be confirmed by the Eurovision Song Contest committee.
Describing Agalarov , the husband of President Aliyev’s elder daughter, Leyla, as “a respected artist in Azerbaijan and abroad,” Bakker maintained that the European Broadcasting Union, the contest’s producer, “has strict control over the content and would not accept anything but a fantastic interval act.”
“Rejecting Emin because he is the son-in-law of the President would make this a political decision - and that is exactly what we don't want to do,” Bakker added.
There are three weeks to go until the Eurovision song contest kicks off in Azerbaijan. But already an air of intrigue is enveloping the event, centering on whether a son-in-law of President Ilham Aliyev will be included in the lineup of performers.
Does urban renewal signify progress? That question has dogged city planners worldwide for decades. And nowhere is the matter more pertinent these days than in Baku, the Caspian seaside capital of Azerbaijan.
Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, will host the Eurovision 2012 song contest in just a few months. Given that the wildly popular TV event provides the Azerbaijani government a showcase for the energy-rich South Caucasus nation, efforts to spruce up the city are already in full swing. But an initiative designed to tackle Baku’s stray dog problem is sparking complaints from animal rights activists.
The recent death of writer Rafiq Tagi has sparked a fresh debate in Azerbaijan on three of the country’s most sensitive topics -- relations with Iran, the role of Islam and the government’s track record on freedom of speech.