March 7, 2012 / 7:48 PM / 6 years ago

Armenia pulls out of Eurovision contest in Azerbaijan

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia has decided to pull out of the 2012 Eurovision song contest in Azerbaijan, its state broadcaster said on Wednesday, underscoring tensions over a disputed enclave.

Armenian-backed forces wrested Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-populated enclave inside Azerbaijan, from Azeri control after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A ceasefire was reached in 1994 after a conflict in which 30,000 people were killed but tensions continue to dominate relations between the countries.

“Despite the fact that the Azeri authorities have given security guarantees to all participating countries, several days ago the Azeri president made a statement that enemy number one for Azerbaijan was Armenians,” Armenia’s Public Television said in a statement.

“There is no logic to sending a participant to a country where he will be met as an enemy,” the statement said.

Azeri officials were not immediately available for the comment.

A group of Armenian singers, including those who planned to participate in the national competition ahead of the contest, said last month they would not go to Azerbaijan. Yerevan had earlier said an Armenian soldier had been killed by an Azeri sniper on the frontline near Nagorno-Karabakh.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) - the organizer of the song contest - expressed disappointment over Armenia’s decision.

“We are truly disappointed by the broadcaster’s decision to withdraw from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest,” Jon Ola Sand, the contest’s executive supervisor, said in a statement published on the EBU website.

“Despite the efforts of the EBU and the Host Broadcaster to ensure a smooth participation for the Armenian delegation in this year’s contest, circumstances beyond our control lead to this unfortunate decision.”

Regional diplomatic tensions have occasionally erupted on the sidelines of the competition, which causes considerable excitement in many countries’ show business communities.

Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan; writing by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; editing by Maria Golovnina

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