A French-Armenian activist highly critical of President Serzh Sarkisian’s government was barred from entering Armenia and deported back to France on Friday more than 12 hours after arriving at Yerevan airport.
Schanth Vosgueritchian, a leader of a Diaspora group called Armenian Renaissance, was held at the Zvartnots international airport before being put on a return flight to Paris. He said afterwards that officers of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) declared him a persona no grata but gave no further explanations.
Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian quoted the NSS director, Gorik Hakobian, as telling her that Vosgueritchian “took actions in France that created problems for the Republic of Armenia.” “That is the reason why he was denied entry into Armenia,” she told reporters.
Vosgueritchian has repeatedly organized anti-government demonstrations outside the Armenian Embassy in Paris to condemn the alleged rigging of Armenia’s February 2013 presidential election and subsequent imprisonments of anti-government activists in Yerevan. The most recent of those small rallies was staged on April 28 in support of five arrested leaders of the Founding Parliament, a radical Armenian opposition group supported by Vosgueritchian.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on his return to Paris, Vosgueritchian laughed off as “ludicrous” the NSS explanation cited by Hranush Hakobian. “All we want is to see Armenia become a truly free and independent country respecting human rights,” he said by phone. “It’s the regime’s policies that pose a threat to Armenia’s national security.”
The 57-year-old activist said his expulsion makes mockery of the Sarkisian administration’s frequent pledges to strengthen Armenia’s links with its worldwide Diaspora. The authorities in Yerevan continue to regard the Diaspora as a mere “cash cow” that must provide financial aid to Armenia and avoid any action against abuses committed by its rulers, said the French national.
The Founding Parliament was quick to condemn the Armenian authorities’ treatment of Vosgueritchian. One of its leaders, Varuzhan Avetisian, said the French-Armenian campaigner wanted to visit his ancestral homeland in order to take part in a Yerevan rally which the opposition movement plans to hold later this month.
Avetisian and four other leading members of the Founding Parliament were arrested on April 6 in advance of the group’s campaign of nonstop protests aimed at toppling President Serzh Sarkisian. The start of the campaign was timed to coincide with the April 24 ceremonies in Yerevan that marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
All five men charged with plotting “mass disturbances” in the capital were set free on May 4. An April 24 rally held by the Founding Parliament in their absence attracted a small crowd, leading the group to suspend its push for regime change and rethink its tactic.