Iran has recalled its ambassador to Azerbaijan, having accused the Eurovision 2012 host of staging a ‘gay parade’ for the flamboyant contest this Saturday.
The move comes after Azerbaijan had accused the Islamic Republic of slander over the accusations, saying there was no word in their language for gay parade.
Today, Iran said it had withdrawn its ambassador from Baku, where the contest will be held, on account of “insulting of religious saints.”
One senior cleric, Ayatolla Sobhani, has issued a statement urging Muslims in the region to protest: “We heard that the government of Azerbaijan is hosting the international Eurovision Song Contest and that during this contest there will also be a gay parade.”
However, the government of Azerbaijan has denied that any such event will take place. “They are making statements about something that does not exist. We are holding Eurovision, not a gay parade,” one official said on Monday.
There have been subsequent protests against Iran in Baku, where demonstrators carried pictures of the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with banners that read: “Azerbaijan does not need clerics — homosexuals!”
This year’s Eurovision song contest, particularly popular among the LGBT community, was seen by the International Lesbian and Gay Association as an opportunity for the country to ‘move towards openness’ after concerns over the country’s gay rights record.
Azerbaijan has a large Muslim population, but the government is secular. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the country in 2001. Azeri officials have privately blamed Iran for Islam’s growing influence in the country.
The Eurovision website and the independent Escotoday site were recently hacked by a group calling itself ‘The Devotees of Azerbaijan,’ which also took exception to Azerbaijan’s allegedly hosting a gay pride parade. The country won the right to host Eurovision this year after Ell and Nikki won last year’s contest.