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Moscow International Film Festival cancels screening of film about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The organizers of the Moscow International Film Festival have pulled Armenian director Jivan Avetisyan’s film “Gate to Heaven” about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh from the festival’s non-competitive program.

The festival’s program director, Kirill Razlogov, told Interfax that the decision was made as a precautionary measure:

“The picture was removed due to the fact that it is directly related to Karabakh, to the Aremnian-Azerbaijani conflict, to military actions […] When the escalation of hostilities began, it was decided that in order to avoid clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Moscow and around Karabakh, we will refrain from showing the picture, even though the picture is good […] This is a precautionary measure in relation to the picture, which is directly related to Karabakh,” he said.

The film “Gate to Heaven” tells the story of frontline correspondents who covered the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s. 

What’s the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? A military conflict in western Transcaucasia that began in the late 1980s, as the USSR collapsed, when the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (an area home predominantly to ethnic Armenians) seceded from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1994, Azerbaijan signed an armistice and ceasefire agreement with Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. That said, years of diplomatic efforts have failed to bring a lasting resolution to the conflict.

According to Razlogov, Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Russia had appealed to the festival organizers previously, demanding that the film be taken off the program. At the time, they refused his request. Razlogov also promised to show the film at the next festival, “if the conflict subsides to the level of a ceasefire at least.”

The 42nd Moscow International Film Festival will take place from October 1–8, 2020. Thirteen films are participating in its competitive program.

On September 27, renewed fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh — both sides accuse the other of staging provocations and launching offensives along the so-called “line of contact.” Both nations have declared martial law in regions affected by the fighting.

A previous escalation occurred along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in July, resulting in the deaths of several dozen people. Afterwards, clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis began to take place abroad, including in Moscow.

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