Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Son of Karabakh Wins Euro Song Contest

Young singer entered as citizen of Armenia as Nagorny Karabakh remains unrecognised.
By Karine Ohanyan
  • Vladimir Arzumanyan, winner of the junior Eurovision song contest, on his return to Nagorny Karabakh. (Photo: Lilit Asryan)
    Vladimir Arzumanyan, winner of the junior Eurovision song contest, on his return to Nagorny Karabakh. (Photo: Lilit Asryan)

Vladimir Arzumanyan was delighted with his victory in the Eurovision youth song contest last month in Minsk, although for some people in Nagorny Karabakh it was a reminder of the unresolved status of their territory. 

Although Vladimir entered as the contestant from the Republic of Armenia, he is actually an Armenian from Nagorny Karabakh, a self-proclaimed republic that enjoys no international recognition and is considered part of Azerbaijan.

“It’s a great victory for our little Karabakh,” said Diana Arzumanyan, Vladimir’s mother.

Lira Kocharyan, who trained Vladimir for the contest, said he received a hero’s welcome on his return.

“Vladimir is just a boy like all others all over the world, with the same desires and dreams. I would very much like him to have not just the same dreams, but also the same rights as his peers all over the world,” she said.

A generation of Karabakh Armenians has grown up in the legal limbo of coming from a place that does not exist in terms of international law.

Nagorny Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan when the borders of the three South Caucasus republics were drawn by the Soviet authorities, although it was granted autonomous status in recognition of the Armenians living there.

In 1988, Armenian residents appealed to Moscow to detach the region from Azerbaijan. The campaign eventually led to war, ending with a 1994 ceasefire, but no formal peace deal.

Sportsmen, musicians and others from Karabakh who wish to compete internationally are obliged to do so as representatives of the state of Armenia.

Andre, a pop star from Karabakh, who represented Armenia in Eurovision 2006, told IWPR that more than half of Armenian musicians actually come from Karabakh.

“When I got into the top ten at Eurovision, I went on stage holding the Karabakh flag,” he recalled. “Although I was representing Armenia, I was definitely representing my homeland as well.”

Pop star Razmik Amyan and pianist Anahit Arushanyan have also performed under the Armenian flag

Ashot Danielyan recently won the world championship in “sambo”, a martial art invented for soldiers in the Soviet Union which is now popular throughout the former Eastern Bloc. He too appeared under the flag of Armenia.

“When I returned from the world championship, I was greeted very warmly in Karabakh. When I saw the flag of the Nagorny Karabakh Republic, I was happier than ever. I think the day will come when I appear under that flag,” he said.

At the same time, Danielyan said, “We sportsmen try not to interfere in politics. I’ve often gone into the ring with guys from Azerbaijan and Turkey, and it was always sportsmanlike. When I was made world champion, the Azerbaijan trainer came up, shook my hand and congratulated me on my win. Sport is sport; it’s outside politics.”

Narine Aghabalyan, culture minister in Karabakh’s government, said, “If you acknowledge that Armenia and Karabakh are a single national and cultural community, then it’s fine if we represent Armenia. But of course we would like to appear under our own flag as a sovereign state. At the moment, Armenia is our only window to the world.”

Aghabalyan said the most important thing was for Karabakh’s best and brightest to shine.

“A true artist needs a big stage, awards and global recognition. I don’t want our talented people to remain here. The environment is too isolated from the world,” she said. “Let them go out and win – we will be proud of them.”

Lilit Tovmasyan, a teacher in Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert, agreed, saying her school had produced numerous singers, sportsmen, mathematicians and theatre directors.

“If they’d all waited until Karabakh was recognised, they wouldn’t have had much of a career,” she said.

Vladimir’s trainer Kocharyan said the problem for many was not which country they represented, but the difficulty of making appearances abroad.

“We need to show them off to the world, and that takes big money,” she said. “Non-recognition, funding, isolation, an information blockade, even a transport blockade. We find out about competitions late or not at all. We can only go if we find a good sponsor. And on top of that, we can only travel via Yerevan, and that’s six hours on the road, then the airport and so on.”

Vladimir, who was born after the Karabakh war ended, has more immediate demands.

“I want a brother – my mother promised me one if I won,” he said.

Karine Ohanyan is a freelance reporter in Nagorny Karabakh.