Zhirayr Sefilian, a Lebanese citizen of Armenian descent, commanded one of the Karabakh Armenian units that fought Azerbaijani forces and retired from the Karabakh military in the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the late 1990s. He has since been based in Yerevan, cooperating with local opposition leaders and actively campaigning against any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
Sefilian was arrested in late 2007 and subsequently sentenced to 18 months in prison on controversial charges of illegal arms possession. His Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH) supported opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election.
The nationalist activist applied for Armenian and Karabakh citizenships shortly after his release from jail in June last year. Both President Serzh Sarkisian and his Karabakh counterpart, Bako Sahakian, turned down the applications without any explanation.
Sefilian has again tried to become a citizen of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) in the hope of avoiding deportation from Armenia. The Armenian immigration authorities refused to grant him a new residency permit shortly after the expiry of his four-month Armenian visa on April 5.
David Babayan, a spokesman for Sahakian, told RFE/RL that Sefilian’s second request has not been granted because the NKR has not yet enacted a law on citizenship. The lack of such a law did not prevent other Diaspora Armenians from obtaining Karabakh passports, however.
One of them, Iranian-Armenian Serzh Amirkhanian, was a member of the NKR government. “Amirkhanian for years lived and occupied important positions here,” said Babayan.
Armenian law bans the expulsion of foreign nationals who have locally born children. “That’s probably the only thing that keeps the authorities from deporting Zhirayr,” said Aghavni Sahakian, a member of a committee lobbying Sefilian’s cause.