By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian authorities have again refused to grant Armenian citizenship to Zhirayr Sefilian, a Lebanese-born prominent veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war bitterly opposed to them, it emerged on Wednesday.
The Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH), a Sefilian-led nationalist group, said the outspoken oppositionist was informed by Armenian immigration authorities on Tuesday that President Serzh Sarkisian has turned down his fresh citizenship application.
Sefilian condemned the decision as illegal and politically motivated. “It once again showed just how far these authorities are from the Armenian people,” he told RFE/RL.
Sefilian lodged the application on June 18, one week after his release from jail. He and another opposition-linked war veteran, Vartan Malkhasian, had been arrested and charged with calling for a violent overthrow of the government in December 2006 just days after holding the HKH’s founding congress in Yerevan. A Yerevan court subsequently cleared Sefilian of the charge but still jailed him for 18 months for illegally possessing a pistol which he claimed to have received as a gift from a former commander of the Karabakh Armenian army.
The Lebanese national had already been twice denied Armenian citizenship despite his active participation in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan that earned him the military rank of lieutenant-colonel. He commanded one of the Karabakh Armenian units that stormed and seized the strategic town of Shushi in May 1992. Sefilian retired from the Karabakh military in the late 1990s.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Norayr Muradkhanian, chief of the Department of Visas and Passports (OVIR) of the Armenian police, confirmed that Sefilian’s fresh application for an Armenian passport has been rejected. Muradkhanian said a relevant decree signed by Sarkisian late last month gave no reason for the rebuff.
A spokesman for the Armenian president promised to comment on the matter on Thursday.
The Armenian authorities already sparked a public outcry when they tried to deport Sefilian from the country shortly before his release from prison. The police asked Armenia’s Administrative Court at the time to authorize the deportation on the grounds that his residency permit has expired. The court refused to consider the application on a technicality on May 27.
Sefilian and the HKH, which is strongly opposed to any Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan, chose to support opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in last February’s presidential election despite the latter’s well-known conciliatory views on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. The HKH is one of about two dozen opposition groups making up Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress alliance.
Sefilian recently joined a group of prominent opposition politicians and intellectuals in launching a new movement, called Miatsum (Unification), campaigning against Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh. The liberation of virtually all of those districts is a key element of international mediators’ existing peace proposals largely acceptable to Yerevan.
(Photolur photo: Sefilian and Ter-Petrosian pictured during an opposition conference in Yerevan.)