Armenia will remember the Azerbaijani Film Festival “STOP” for a long time. It was held on 12 April despite many protests and the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
At the beginning of April, director of the Caucasus Center of Peacemaking Initiatives Georgi Vanyan announced on his Facebook profile that the Azerbaijani Film Festival ”STOP” would be held on 12 April in Gyumri. However, the citizens of the city, including the Mayor Vartan Ghukasyan (a member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia) organised numerous protests against the event. The festival could not be held in any of the local screening rooms. ”Asparez” club, where the festival was to take place, was closed. The citizens picketed the club, holding banners “No to the Azerbaijani Film Festival!” In the afternoon of 12 April, Vanyan announced that the Festival had been cancelled and he left Gyumri. On his Facebook profile, he wrote: “Attention! Azerbaijani Film Festival in Armenia has been disrupted once again. I would like to apologise to our audience and assure you that we are consistent in holding the festival and creating the space of freedom of speech and direct communication in Armenia, despite the propaganda and terror, which grow in strength because of deterioration of humanistic ideas and rejection of reason.”
Such a response was expected, for it was already in 2010 that Vanyan failed to organise the festival in Yerevan. As it turned out, the owners of 10 screening rooms in Yerevan refused him renting them for the festival, even though the Ambassadors of the United States of America and the United Kingdom were to attend it. However, in 2010 there was no report of the authorities’ contribution to the situation. The activity of the local authorities of Gyumri is a litmus test of the pre-election atmosphere in Armenia.
Festival on the road
Despite the pressure and unfavourable conditions, the festival was held in a roadside tavern on the way between Gyumri and Yerevan. Four films were screened – one documentary and three feature films, all shot in Azerbaijan between 2007 and 2008. There were 26 viewers, 24 of whom are to determine the winner of the Audience Award. Another screening will be held on 17 April in Vanadzor, in the Helsinki Assembly office. The festival is funded by the embassies of the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In 2010, when the event was cancelled for the first time, no one interfered or even suggested a room for the screenings, though the embassies had suitable room capabilities.
Are Turkish films better than Azerbaijani films?
It is no news that the main cause of Armenian aversion to Azerbaijani films is the mutual hostility of both nations and the unsettled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But Armenia has another enemy – Turkey, which in solidarity with Azerbaijan closed the border crossing with Armenia in 1993. Yerevan has demanded for years that Ankara acknowledges the Turkish genocide of Armenians during the World War I. Turkey denies this claim and speaks only of deportation. However, for years the screenings of Turkish films during the “Golden Apricot” Festival have been held in Armenia. Besides, in 2010, when the Azerbaijani Film Festival was cancelled, Georgi Vanyan organised the Turkish Film Festival funded by the Embassy of Great Britain. No one interfered with the event at that time. It is worth mentioning that, in contrast to Azerbaijan, there have been attempts at normalising the relations with Turkey.
Taking into consideration the situation, one can say that the taste of Armenians depends not only on the trends in film and culture but also the political stand of the authorities. It is possible that in case of introducing policy of improvement the Azerbaijan-Armenia relations, Armenians will no longer be against the Azerbaijani Film Festival and local authorities will not become the leaders of demonstrations against the festival.
See the protests against the festival in Gyumri:
Translated by Marta Lityńska