Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Meet Armenia’s political genie, Serj Tankian

The frontman of the Armenian-American metal band had a sour reaction to the Eurovision results, calling for Armenia to leave the song contest behind in the future

Serj Tankian in concert in San Bernadino, California. Photo: Kevin Winter/ABA

Eurovision is never really over. The fallout from the cancellation of the jury votes of six countries over “irregular voting patterns” continues, with threats of withdrawal from the 2023 Contest. And neither has Ukraine’s much-heralded win been uncontroversial.

While victory for Kalush Orchestra’s Stefania was welcomed by most, the abandonment of the contest’s long-held ban on political statements has irked the purists.

But one musician has joined the naysayers for entirely different reasons. Serj Tankian, frontman of Armenian-American alternative metal band System of a Down, wrote on Instagram the day after the competition, “I never had much respect for this cheesy song contest and I have even less this year as it is a blatant political cause célèbre.” He praised Armenia’s entry, Rosa Linn’s pop ballad SNAP, bemoaning her 20th place finish and adding, “The #1 song is unsingable and unmemorable … Armenia should stop participating in this shitty song contest.” This reaction was no mere sour grapes but had its roots in over a century of Armenian history and a recent, forgotten conflict at the fringes of Europe.

Tankian has never hesitated to court controversy. System of a Down’s breakthrough album Toxicity was released just a week before 9/11, yet Tankian had little thought for the potential damage just as the band were achieving major success when he published an essay titled ‘Understanding Oil’ on the band’s website just 48 hours after the attacks. Tankian suggested that an oil-obsessed American foreign policy provided context for that day and was quickly labelled an apologist for terrorism. The fallout was considerable, and lead single Chop Suey!, with its lyric about “self-righteous suicide”, was taken off air by some broadcasters.

Born in Beirut to Armenian parents and raised in the US from the age of seven, Tankian’s background had clearly informed his viewpoint in the essay, as his opening gambit was that “After WWI, secret back-door deals by our State Dept yielded oil rights from then defeated Turkey to fields in what is now Iraq and Saudi Arabia, in return for looking the other way at a crime against humanity, the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks.”

All four of Tankian’s grandparents were survivors of the Armenian genocide, and System of a Down – formed among LA’s huge Armenian community – had made raising awareness of that forgotten crime against humanity a personal crusade. Their debut album closed with P.L.U.C.K., which spoke of “A whole race genocide” and stated “Now it’s time for restitution/ Recognition, restoration, reparation”.

When they performed in the Armenian capital to mark the centenary of the genocide in 2015, Tankian condemned incumbent president Serzh Sargsyan from the stage for his administration’s corruption. Three years on and opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan, who had been in the crowd that night, led a peaceful revolution and was subsequently elected PM. When Covid hit, Tankian recorded a fundraising song with lyrics by Pashinyan.

But Armenia’s travails were far from solved with the 2018 revolution. In late 2020, fighting broke out in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh – a territory legally held by Azerbaijan but existing as the self-declared ethnically Armenian Republic of Artsakh since 1994. System of a Down released the double A-side single Protect the Land/ Genocidal Humanoidz, drawing links between the Armenian genocide and what Turkish-backed Azerbaijan were doing in Artsakh.

While a ceasefire was quickly agreed, enforced by Russian troops, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh remains tense, with Azerbaijan accused of cutting off gas supplies to the region this past winter. Now Armenia is walking a difficult diplomatic tightrope. Russia remains its key strategic partner and instances of Ukrainian support for Azerbaijan in the 2020 war have not been forgotten.

This is why Tankian’s Instagram grid isn’t a sea of blue and yellow. While whataboutery and contrarianism rarely sit well, sweeping some conflicts under the carpet while enthusiastically highlighting others is certainly questionable, and Eurovision faces difficult choices in the future now it has let the genie of politics out of the bottle.


System of a Down, P.L.U.C.K. (1998)
The closing track of the band’s eponymous debut album, the title stood for Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers. It was a protest song about the lack of official recognition of the Armenian genocide.

System of a Down, Chop Suey (2001)
This Grammy-nominated track gave System of a Down the platform they have used to advocate for their ancestral homeland.

System of a Down, Protect The Land/ Genocidal Humanoidz (2020)
The band’s first new music in 15 years, this double A-side was released to raise awareness of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Serj Tankian, Hayastane (2020) During the first weeks of the Covid-19 crisis, Tankian released this acoustic love song to Armenia (Hayastan is the Armenian name for Armenia) as a charity single.

Rosa Linn, SNAP (2022)
Tankian praised Armenia’s country-flavoured Eurovision 2022 entry as “an amazing pop song”, while criticising the Ukrainian winner.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the Clown nation edition

Picture: Getty

Anything but science friction: mixing music with maths

Despite the preconception that maths and science are cold and logical while music is all emotion, there’s clearly much interplay between music and the STEM curriculum

A miscast Anthony Hopkins alongside the excellent Michael 
Banks Repeta in James Gray’s 
Armageddon Time. Photo: Focus Features

Cannes gets the wrong end of the schtick

A miscast Anthony Hopkins sets the tone as Cannes’ opening films disappoint