By Anush Martirosian
A French citizen of Armenian descent who actively participated in this year’s post-election rallies in Yerevan is facing deportation from Armenia, it was claimed on Thursday.
Sarkis Hatspanian was born and grew up in Turkey before relocating to Armenia from France in 1990. He took part in the subsequent Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh. A critic of Armenia’s current leadership, Hatspanian has publicly backed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power, participating in massive anti-government demonstrations held in the wake of last February’s presidential election.
Hatspanian has been holed up in his Yerevan apartment since Wednesday evening, refusing to open its doors to police officers. Speaking to RFE/RL by phone, he said they want to take him to the police department of the city’s Kentron district.
Plainclothes police officers could be seen knocking on the apartment’s door the next day. One told RFE/RL that they will stay there “until Mr. Sarkis comes out.”
Two members of the Armenian parliament were also at the scene. One of them, Artsvik Minasian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, said officials at the Kentron police told him that former President Robert Kocharian revoked Hatspanian’s long-term residency permit in March and that they want to question the French-Armenian activist in connection with that move.
That Kocharian signed a relevant executive order shortly before he left office was confirmed by officials at President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration. Under Armenian law, such orders take effect only after the official notification of individuals affected by them.
“I am absolutely not aware of that decision,” insisted Hatspanian. He said he has left and returned to Armenia since March and had no problems with immigration authorities. “I flew back to Yerevan as recently as on the night from October 6 to 7. They told me nothing at the airport,” he said.
Armen Harutiunian, Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, said he is dealing with the case and already has questions to the authorities. “His residency permit was revoked by the president but he still managed to re-enter Armenia,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. “If that is confirmed, we need to clarify how he entered the country without having the right to live there.”
Harutiunian added that under Armenian law, the authorities can not kick out Hatspanian because he has underage children in the country.
Zhirayr Sefilian, another, more prominent war veteran lacking Armenian citizenship and strongly backing the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition, also reportedly faced deportation from the country as he completed a controversial 18-month prison sentence last June. In late May, the police filed a relevant lawsuit to Armenia’s Administrative Court on the grounds that Sefilian’s residency permit has expired.
The court refused to consider the demand on a technicality. The police have made no fresh attempts to deport him since then.
(Photolur photo: Hatspanian addresses an opposition rally in Yerevan.)