Pashinyan Will Have Blood on His Hands if French-Armenian Dies at Yerevan Airport

Pashinyan Will Have Blood on His Hands if French-Armenian Dies at Yerevan Airport

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

French-Armenian journalist Leo Nicolian has been on a hunger strike at the Yerevan airport for 16 days, after being banned from entering Armenia.

Nicolian, 57, is an aggressive investigative journalist who has generated plenty of controversy due to his revelations about important figures. He has been on the frontlines of the conflict in Artsakh and the recent clashes on the Israel-Lebanon border. He was wounded during both conflicts.

In the past 30 years, Nicolian has visited Armenia and Artsakh dozens of times and interviewed key leaders. However, what he encountered at the Yerevan airport during his latest visit two weeks ago was completely unexpected and shocking.

In early April, Nicolian had gone to the village of Voskepar in the Tavoush District of Armenia and interviewed Primate of the Tavoush Diocese Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan who has been leading the popular movement in opposition to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s recent decision to turn over four Armenian border villages to Azerbaijan.

Later in April, when Nicolian tried to return to Armenia, he was told by immigration officials at the Yerevan airport that he was not allowed to enter the country. When he asked why, he was told that he “presented a danger to Armenia’s security.” This is a ridiculous accusation because Nicolian is a professional journalist who has not violated any Armenian laws and committed no crimes.

Regrettably, Nicolian is not the only Diaspora Armenian who is banned from entering Armenia. There have been several others who were told after landing at the Yerevan airport that they are not allowed to visit the country. None of them has done anything illegal or criminal to warrant such a harsh measure. Besides, if they had violated any laws or presented a danger to Armenia’s security, they should have been arrested at the airport and turned over to the courts to decide their fate. No official, regardless of his rank or position, has the right to make arbitrary decisions on behalf of the judiciary.

Furthermore, Prime Minister Pashinyan has no right to decide who can enter the country. Armenia is not his private residence. He can’t decide whom to allow or not allow in. Armenia is the homeland of all 10 million Armenians worldwide and no official has the right to ban any one of them to enter the country in the absence of a legal reason.

Nicolian and several other Diaspora Armenians are banned from entering Armenia simply because they dared to criticize Pashinyan’s defeatist policies. The Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed to be a democrat. However, freedom of expression is one of the basic principles of democracy which is frequently violated by the authorities in Armenia who have turned the country into a one-man rule — a dictatorship.

To make matters worse, after Mourad Papazian, a prominent French-Armenian critic of Pashinyan, was not allowed to enter Armenia, he filed a lawsuit in an Armenian court which found the government’s ban illegal. Since Armenian officials had 30 days to file an appeal to reverse the lower court’s decision, no one knew if they would file such an appeal. Fortunately, when Pashinyan visited Paris in the midst of those 30 days, President Emmanuel Macron met privately with Papazian and Pashinyan and urged the Prime Minister to abandon his pursuit of Papazian. Pashinyan reluctantly agreed to drop the appeal, but it was shameful that the head of a foreign country had to intervene in an Armenian domestic matter.

Meanwhile, Nicolian has been languishing at the Yerevan airport for the past 16 days. During our multiple phone conversations, he told me that he will continue his hunger strike even if it leads to his death. His life is at risk because he has several serious ailments. From time to time, local medical staff comes to measure his blood pressure and gives him some injections. He is not allowed to leave the airport for any medical treatment. In recent days, an ambulance was sent to the airport to check his blood pressure, his heart, and give him another injection.

Nicolian’s status is in limbo. He tells me that because he is in the airport’s internationally protected “neutral zone,” Armenian officials cannot take any action against him. They have tried to convince him to board a flight to Paris which he has refused. They have also offered him sandwiches and water which he has turned down.

Nicolian told me that he is committed to starve himself to death at the Yerevan airport. He thinks that his death will bring shame to the Prime Minister. I am not sure he is correct. I think that it will bring shame to the reputation of the Republic of Armenia.

The French Embassy in Yerevan, contrary to its diplomatic obligations, has refused to visit its own citizen to inquire about his condition. This is the vindictive position of the local French Ambassador because Nicolian had exposed the Ambassador’s scandals in the media. The French Foreign Ministry has also not shown any interest in the welfare of Nicolian, since he has publicly criticized the French President in the past.

Even though Nicolian has antagonized many individuals and organizations due to his harsh criticisms and abrasive personality, Armenians have an obligation to do whatever they can to publicize his critical situation and save the life of a fellow Armenian before he starves to death.

I urge the citizens of Armenia to hold protests in front of Prime Minister’s building in Yerevan, demanding that Nicolian be allowed to enter Armenia. Protests should also be held in front of the French Embassy in Yerevan.

French-Armenians should also hold protests in Paris in front of the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Palace seeking their intervention with the government of Armenia.

Should Nicolian die in the Yerevan airport due to his prolonged hunger strike, Prime Minister Pashinyan will have blood on his hands, so will French President Macron.