By Emil Danielyan
President Serzh Sarkisian has granted Armenian citizenship to Charles Aznavour, a prominent French singer of Armenian descent, his office said on Friday.
In a short statement announcing it, Sarkisian’s office did not specify if Aznavour himself applied for an Armenian passport.
Aznavour already received Armenia’s highest state award, the title of “national hero,” in 2004 in recognition of his long-standing support for the country of his ancestors. Then President Robert Kocharian also praised him for “presenting Armenia to the world.”
Aznavour, 84, is one of the most renowned members of France’s influential Armenian community. He was at the forefront of the community’s efforts to help victims of the catastrophic 1988 earthquake that devastated much of northern Armenia.
The crooner has regularly visited Armenia since its independence. He developed a close personal rapport with Kocharian during the latter’s presidency. A square in downtown Yerevan was named after Aznavour in 2001.
Sarkisian’s decree was made possible by the abolition in late 2005 of a constitutional ban on dual citizenship in Armenia. According to the Armenian police, nearly one thousand foreign nationals, most of them Diaspora Armenians, applied for Armenian citizenship and only about one fifth of them received it as of last May.
Dual citizenship applications have to be seconded by the police and a special presidential commission headed by Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian before they can be considered by the president of the republic, who has the exclusive authority to approve or reject them. The procedure seems to have been quite discretionary, with the authorities in Yerevan clearly reluctant to hand out Armenian passports to Diaspora Armenians critical of their policies.
Just last month Sarkisian refused to grant citizenship to Zhirayr Sefilian, a Lebanese national who moved to Armenia in 1991 and played a prominent role in its ensuing war with Azerbaijan. The authorities refused to explain the rebuff which Sefilian and the Armenian opposition consider politically motivated.
A bitter government critic, Sefilian was set free in June after spending 18 months in prison on highly controversial charges of illegal arms possession. He had already been twice denied Armenian citizenship by Kocharian.