Azerbaijan has announced the completion of its new concert hall which will be the venue for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The Crystal Hall in the capital Baku is now ready to open its doors to pop-stars from forty-three countries next month.
The multi-purpose indoor arena with a 23,000- seat capacity has created a sense of pride in many Baku residents.
“It is not just a festival, it’s a grand occasion for the republic,” said one local. “At last everyone will have heard of us and at last they will be able to find Azerbaijan on the map. It’s great.”
But the oil rich nation is also internationally criticised for its heavy-handed treatment of civil groups and the media. And one human rights organisation sees the competition as a chance to promote change.
Human Rights Watch European and Asia Director, Hugh Williamson said: “Last week we asked the EBU to approach the Azerbaijan government directly, to see if there are any plans to release imprisoned journalists before the Eurovision Song Contest and also to campaign for more press and political freedom s in Azerbaijan.”
And within the country, opposition groups have condemned President Ilham Aliyev and his government for trampling on people’s rights. Forcible evictions and the demolition of homes, they say, have been the price for the gleaming glass and steel building.