"Maybe they just don’t care": System Of A Down's Serj Tankian calls out Imagine Dragons for ignoring his pleas to cancel a scheduled show in Azerbaijan, which he claims will help "whitewash" brutal human rights abuses in the country

Serj Tankian and Imagine Dragons
(Image credit: Serj Tankian - Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA | Imagine Dragons - Gareth Cattermole - MTV/Getty Images for MTV)

System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian has always sought to use his privileged platform as a globally-famous rock star to speak out against and call attention to international human rights abuses, oppression, dictatorial regimes and state-endorsed genocide. But rarely does this commendable commitment to shining a light on injustice and the erosion of civil liberties in society lead him to call out and challenge fellow musicians who may be less concerned with, or indeed entirely ignorant of, issues about which he feels passionate. 

That has now changed with the 55-year-old vocalist/activist publicly criticising Las Vegas-based pop-rock band Imagine Dragons over what he sees as their failure to engage with him over their forthcoming scheduled show in Baku, Azerbaijan, which Tankian argues will lend credibility to the country's ruling elite and serve to help "whitewash" their repressive regime. 

Last week, Tankian reposted an AP news report which stated that Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, warned that Azerbaijan is preparing genocide against ethnic Armenians in its Nagorno-Karabakh region and called for the U.N. Security Council to bring the matter before the international tribunal.

“There is a reasonable basis to believe that a genocide is being committed,” Ocampo’s report stated.

In a follow-up post on August 16, Tankian reveals that after being made aware that Imagine Dragons are due to perform in the Azerbaijan capital Baku on September 2, he wrote "a kind letter" to the group, who he praises for being "active proponents of various human rights issues and social causes", asking them to reconsider playing the gig, suggesting that "it would help whitewash the dictatorial regime’s image."

"I really feel that performing in Azerbaijan would have a negative impact on your brand as well," the letter cautioned. "I’m confident that you can decipher all the facts for yourselves to decide whether to cancel your concert."

The singer reports that he has received "no answer, no response" from the group, and has now been "forced" to publicise and post his original letter to draw attention to the issue, and to call out the US group for "their disregard for this humanitarian catastrophe."

"Maybe they felt they had a legal liability to play the show, maybe they just don’t care," his post continues. "My whole life I have been an advocate for genocide recognition and have always said there has to be a price to pay for Genocidal regimes or deniers. Another genocide is looming by Azerbaijan and while this happens they get to enjoy an American band from LV. Fuck that! That’s not right."

Tankian's post includes a link to a change.org petition with the title Ask Imagine Dragons To Cancel Their Concert In Genocidal Dictatorship Azerbaijan.

Imagine Dragons have yet to publicly respond to Tankian's post, which you can read below.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.