On Feb. 14, ARMTV, Armenia’s public television company, held the country’s national final to select the winner(s) that will represent Armenia at the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo, Norway from May 25-29. The event took place in the National Opera Theatre in Yerevan and was broadcast live. Nine contestants vied for the position. The winner was determined by a panel of jurists and SMS text voting. The Grant Thornton Amyot Audit Organization monitored the votes on behalf of Armenian public television and InterMob CJSC.
The performances ranged from ballads to rock, pop, and R&B songs. “Another Story,” a four-member rock band, performed first. Their song, “Ays Dzmer” (“This Winter”), was the only entirely Armenian-language song. The rest of the songs performed that evening were in English. Some, however, incorporated Armenian elements, such as a duduk player, Armenian background vocals, or traditional costumes.
Since 1999, Eurovision contest rules allow contestants to sing in any language. In the past, Eurovision has had language restrictions in place. From 1966-72 and 1978-98, contestants were required to perform their songs in their national languages. Now, many of the songs are performed partially or entirely in English to reach broader audiences. Some contestants have even opted to perform in entirely made-up languages. (In 2003, Belgium’s “Urban Trad” sang “Sanomi” in an entirely fictional language.)
In any case, Rivas, the 22-year old Russian-Armenian, claimed the winning spot with her song “Apricot Stone” (lyrics by Moscow-based Karen Kavaleryan, music by Armen Martirosyan). The performance started with a cloaked man, face hidden, playing the duduk, soon accompanied by a guitarist and a pianist (the composer himself). Rivas took the stage—wearing a white gown with a chiffon wrap floating about her, her wavy black hair reaching well below her waist—and began singing her already-controversial song:
“Many, many years ago
when I was a little child,
mama told me you should know
our world is cruel and wild,
but to make your way
through cold and heat
love is all that you need…”
According to Rivas and her producer, “Apricot Stone” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ik9xBv-F2BQ) speaks of the need for world peace and love. It is also a song that symbolizes the Armenian Diaspora, to which Eva belongs. It is about yearning for her homeland.
Rivas enjoys the support of Andre, the first Armenian representative to Eurovision (2006), and Lys Assia, the first ever winner of the Eurovision Song Contest (1956). Contestants Emmy and Mihran duo had the support of Ricky Martin, the Puerto Rican pop singer, who wished them good luck in a YouTube clip.
Armenia debuted in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006 with Andre’s song “Without Your Love,” which came in 8th place. In 2007, Hayko represented Armenia with his song “Anytime You Need,” and came in 8th. In 2008, Sirusho’s “Qele, Qele” came in 4th. In 2009, Inga and Anush Arshakyans performed “Jan Jan,” and came in 10th.
Accusations of Foul Play at National Finals
Eva’s victory is contested by some who believe the results were rigged. Nadezhda Sargsyan, the mother of pop icon and contestant Emmy, has threatened to take the matter to court. Sargsyan claims that soon after the 15-minute SMS voting started, some names were blocked, and consequently some of the contestants, like her daughter Emmy, lost. Rivas received 5,000 SMS votes, while the Emmy and Mihran duo received 1,400.
During a press conference on Feb. 20, Nadezhda Sargsyan claimed that ARMTV’s chairman, Alexan Harutyunyan, had reassured her that Emmy and Mihran would “definitely” represent Armenia at Eurovision. Her lawyer, Vrej Giragosyan, questioned the legality of the results due to the blocked SMS votes. According to him, Eurovision rules do not give any guidance on how to deal with a situation in which the SMS voting system gets disrupted.
Turkish Composer Accuses ‘Apricot Stone’ of Being Political
Meanwhile, the Turkish composer Yagoub Mutlu, who was present at Armenia’s national finals, has accused “Apricot Stone” of having a clear political message. Mutlu, who assures the public that “I am not an enemy of Armenians,” has claimed that the song’s first seven lines (see above) refer to the Armenian Genocide He believes that the term “motherland” refers to Turkish territories, while the rest of the song is a clear message directed at Turkey. The story has appeared in numerous Turkish and Azerbaijani newspapers, such as the Anadolu Ajansi (Anatolian News Agency), the Azeri Press Agency, CNN Turk, and Radikal.
Eurovision bans songs that have a political message. Last year, Georgia’s representatives, Stephane and 3G, were instructed to change the lyrics of their song “We Don’t Wanna Put In,” which apparently took a jab at Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Georgia refused to participate in the contest.
“Apricot Stone” was written by Karen Kavaleryan, an experienced Russian-Armenian lyricist familiar with the Eurovision Contest world and their rules. In 2002 and 2006, he co-wrote the lyrics for the Russian entries (which placed 10th and 2nd place, respectively), the Belarusian lyrics in 2007 (6th place), the Armenian lyrics in 2007 (8th place), the Georgian lyrics in 2008 (11th place), and the Ukranian lyrics in 2008 (2nd place).
Rivas’ public relations manager, Hayk Markosyan has told ArmeniaNow that “the song has nothing to do with the Armenian Genocide, and it does not have a political context. The song simply presents the Armenian culture, the Armenian traditions, the apricot, which is just an Armenian fruit and it is the symbol of Armenia, and the thoughts of a young (Armenian) woman who lived far from the homeland for years.”
Meanwhile, following the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, Azerbaijani authorities launched a campaign tracking and interrogating dozens of individuals who had voted for Armenia’s Inga and Anush Arshakyan sisters and their song “Jan Jan.” Forty-three individuals had reportedly voted for the song. (The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) found that the Azerbaijani broadcaster, Ictimai Televiziya, had distorted the TV signal when the Armenian contestants were up, blurring the telephone number.) According to the Azeri Press Agency (APA), EBU fined the TV station €2700 and gave them a warning. APA claims that Armenia also received a warning from EBU, since “Armenia’s Eurovision 2009 spot contained political points.”
Rivas was born on July 13, 1987 in Rostov-na-Donu, Russia, to an Armenian mother and an Armenian-Greek-Russian father. Her real name is Valeriya Reshetnikova-Tsaturyan. She left Rostov in 2006, and soon adopted her Greek great-grandmother’s name, Eva Rivas, as her stage name.
According to her website, from 1996 to 2004 she was a soloist in the Arevik ensemble in Rostov, through which she earned recognition, awards, and medals. In 2003, she graduated from Image Elite, a modeling studio. She has earned titles such as “Little Beauty of Rostov,” “Golden Voice of Rostov,” “Miss Pearl of Don,” and while in Yerevan, “Vice-miss of the Caucasus.” After leaving Arevik, Eva continued to enter contests, and in 2008, signed a contract with Armenian Production. She gained even more popularity when in 2009 she chose to sing Sayat Nova’s “Tamam Ashkharh” at the Tashir 2009 Music Festival. That same year, Eva released a music video for “Tamam Ashkharh,” which was directed by Bookhadir Yuldeshev and shot in Armenia, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Uzbekistan (watch video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXb2dteSFyk). She has also appeared in Armenian TV shows.
Nanore Barsoumian is a staff writer for the Armenian Weekly.