“Respectfully, I draw the line at ethnic cleansing and genocide”: System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian continues war of words with Imagine Dragons

Serj Tankian and Imagine Dragons performing live
(Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images | Disney/Randy Holmes)

System Of A Down vocalist Serj Tankian has responded to Imagine Dragons’ defence of their decision to perform in Azerbaijan.

Tankian originally wrote to the pop-rock stars last year, ahead of their gig in Baku on October 2, hoping to dissuade them from performing in the country due to the actions of authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev.

The Armenian-American nu metal singer believed that the concert “would help whitewash the dictatorial regime’s image”.

He also cited an Associated Press report where a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Azerbaijan was preparing for genocide against ethnic Armenians in its Nagorno-Karabakh region.

After the gig went ahead, Tankian told Metal Hammer, “I don’t respect them [Imagine Dragons] as human beings.

“Fuck their art, they’re not good human beings, as far as I’m concerned.”

Imagine Dragons vocalist Dan Reynolds responded to Tankian’s criticism in a recent Rolling Stone feature.

“I don’t believe in depriving our fans who want to see us play because of the acts of their leaders and their governments,” the vocalist said.

“I think that’s a really slippery slope. I think the second you start to do that, there’s corrupt leaders and warmongers all over the world, and where do you draw the line?”

Today (July 5), via Instagram, Tankian has issued a counter-statement, continuing to criticise Imagine Dragons for performing in Azerbaijan.

After quoting Reynolds’ rhetorical question, Tankian writes, “Respectfully, I draw the line at ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

He continues: “Azerbaijan’s dictatorship with popular support was already into a 9 month starvation blockade of Nagorno-Karabagh qualified as Genocide by former [International Criminal Court] prosecutor [Luis Moreno Ocampo] when they [Imagine Dragons] decided to play Baku.

“Would they play in Nazi Germany? Why don’t they want to play in Russia? Because it’s not popular?

“They support Ukraine but not Armenians of Artsakh? The only ‘slippery slope’ is the farce moral equivalency at the heart of this hypocritical attitude.”

Tankian finishes: “I have nothing against this guy nor his band. I just hate artists being taken advantage of to whitewash Genocidal dictatorships.”

Tankian put out his new memoir, Down With The System, on May 14 via Hachette Books, while Imagine Dragons released new album Loom on June 28 via Interscope.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.