Pashinyan will have blood on his hands if French-Armenian dies at Yerevan airport

French-Armenian journalist Leo Nicolian has been on a hunger strike at the Yerevan airport for 16 days, after being banned from entering Armenia.

Nicolian, 57, is an aggressive investigative journalist who has generated plenty of controversy due to his revelations about important figures. He has been on the frontlines of the conflict in Artsakh and the recent clashes on the Israel-Lebanon border. He was wounded during both conflicts.

In the past 30 years, Nicolian has visited Armenia and Artsakh dozens of times and interviewed key leaders. However, what he encountered at the Yerevan airport during his latest visit two weeks ago was completely unexpected and shocking.

In early April, Nicolian went to the village of Voskepar in the Tavush district of Armenia and interviewed Primate of the Tavush Diocese Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, who has been leading the popular movement in opposition to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s recent decision to turn over four Armenian border villages to Azerbaijan.

Later in April, when Nicolian tried to return to Armenia, he was told by immigration officials at the Yerevan airport that he was not allowed to enter the country. When he asked why, he was told that he “presented a danger to Armenia’s security.” This is a ridiculous accusation, because Nicolian is a professional journalist who has not violated any Armenian laws and has committed no crimes.

Regrettably, Nicolian is not the only Diaspora Armenian who is banned from entering Armenia. There have been several others who were told after landing at the Yerevan airport that they are not allowed to visit the country. None of them has done anything illegal or criminal to warrant such a harsh measure. Besides, if they had violated any laws or presented a danger to Armenia’s security, they should have been arrested at the airport and turned over to the courts to decide their fate. No official, regardless of rank or position, has the right to make arbitrary decisions on behalf of the judiciary.

Furthermore, PM Pashinyan has no right to decide who can enter the country. Armenia is not his private residence. He can’t decide whom to allow or not allow in. Armenia is the homeland of all 10 million Armenians worldwide, and no official has the right to ban any one of them from entering the country in the absence of a legal reason.

Nicolian and several other Diaspora Armenians are banned from entering Armenia simply because they dared to criticize Pashinyan’s defeatist policies. The prime minister has repeatedly claimed to be a democrat. However, freedom of expression is one of the basic principles of democracy, which is frequently violated by the authorities in Armenia, who have turned the country into a one-man rule—a dictatorship.

To make matters worse, after Mourad Papazian, a prominent French-Armenian critic of Pashinyan, was not allowed to enter Armenia, he filed a lawsuit in an Armenian court, which found the government’s ban illegal. Since Armenian officials had 30 days to file an appeal to reverse the lower court’s decision, no one knew if they would file such an appeal. Fortunately, when Pashinyan visited Paris in the midst of those 30 days, President Emmanuel Macron met privately with Papazian and Pashinyan and urged the prime minister to abandon his pursuit of Papazian. Pashinyan reluctantly agreed to drop the appeal, but it was shameful that the head of a foreign country had to intervene in an Armenian domestic matter.

Leo Nicolian at Zvartnots International Airport (Facebook, May 6, 2024)

Meanwhile, Nicolian has been languishing at the Yerevan airport for the past 16 days. During our multiple phone conversations, he told me that he will continue his hunger strike even if it leads to his death. His life is at risk, because he has several serious ailments. From time to time, local medical staff come to measure his blood pressure and give him some injections. He is not allowed to leave the airport for any medical treatment. In recent days, an ambulance was sent to the airport to check his blood pressure and his heart and to give him another injection.

Nicolian’s status is in limbo. He tells me that because he is in the airport’s internationally protected “neutral zone,” Armenian officials cannot take any action against him. They have tried to convince him to board a flight to Paris, which he has refused. They have also offered him sandwiches and water, which he has turned down.

Nicolian told me that he is committed to starving himself to death at the Yerevan airport. He thinks that his death will bring shame to the prime minister. I am not sure he is correct. I think that it will bring shame to the reputation of the Republic of Armenia.

The French Embassy in Yerevan, contrary to its diplomatic obligations, has refused to visit its own citizen to inquire about his condition. This is the vindictive position of the local French ambassador, because Nicolian had exposed the ambassador’s scandals in the media. The French Foreign Ministry has also not shown any interest in the welfare of Nicolian, since he has publicly criticized the French president in the past.

Even though Nicolian has antagonized many individuals and organizations due to his harsh criticisms and abrasive personality, Armenians have an obligation to do whatever they can to publicize his critical situation and save the life of a fellow Armenian before he starves to death.

I urge the citizens of Armenia to hold protests in front of the prime minister’s building in Yerevan, demanding that Nicolian be allowed to enter Armenia. Protests should also be held in front of the French Embassy in Yerevan.

French Armenians should also hold protests in Paris in front of the foreign ministry and the presidential palace seeking their intervention with the government of Armenia.

Should Nicolian die in the Yerevan airport due to his prolonged hunger strike, Prime Minister Pashinyan will have blood on his hands, and so will French President Macron.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

7 Comments

  1. Funny how in 30 years worth of visits to Artsakh, this guy couldn’t see what was going to eventually happen. The only defeatist policies were those of the previous administrations, whose corruption, ineptitude and complacency put us in the current situation we are in. It’s okay to be upset with the painful choices we have had to make to prevent further loss, but I don’t hear anyone offering any other solutions that don’t involve another lost war.

    • This is to ask Mr. Nicolian to stop his hunger strike and look after his health firstly, then to help Armenia and Armenians with his journalistic skills to tell the world what is going on in Armenia, Artsakh, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Mr Nicolian your access to Europe is very important to us. In support to you I say the following;
      1- the critics should NOT SHOOT the MESSENGER. The Issues of Artsakh are due to Armenian weak leaderships IN THE REGION and lack of patriotic feelings.
      2-THE Azerbaijan has long bloody history based on Asian Tribal MO [modus operandi] and based on invasion, mascaras and distractions of native people and occupy on their lands, and [now] has support of western countries to get cheap oil and gas.
      3- Mr Nicolian, I hope you hear me, please you must stop hunger strike and start exposing all the traitors to Armenia with your international experience in media.

  2. It’s always easy to blame your own mistakes on someone else. When will Pashinyan own his own multiple gross errors and misrule? By covering up for him, you are justifying Pashinyan’s wrong-headed decision to block Diaspora Armenians from visiting Armenia, just because they disagree with him. Have a little decency. Nicolian is about to starve to death. Have a little sympathy for a fellow Armenian who is about to lose his life.

    • Sadly there had for various reasons a tragic denial of reality. The victory in 1994 was only a ceasefire on favourable terms. Whilst people got on with their lives and government officials prevaricated in negotiations Azerbaijan steadily gained strength until it was confident it could reverse the outcome the losses of 2016 could be dismissed what happened in 2020 and subsequently couldn’t. The area isn’t the centre of global attention hence Armenia wasn’t put under pressure when it had the advantage in the 1990s by the UN. Hence when the tables turned Armenia had little support either. Due to issues with Turkey and Azerbaijan,Russia had the ability to be rather cavalier with Armenia ” they are surrounded by enemies and have nowhere else to go” being a common sentiment from the Kremlin. This is an appalling attitude to have. In turn Armenia had been we are Russia only legal ally in the region so they wouldn’t let us fail this was naive as it now is clear. Two notable faults with this was overating one’s own importance and overdependence on the foutunes of one’s patron. Russia determined that Azerbaijan is more important namely it can help keep security on the southern border of Russia, it’s rich hydrocarbons are a useful market factor, it’s land link to Iran. Armenia couldn’t offer such benefits to Russia. As for negotiations with Azerbaijan playing for time as persued since 1994 has clearly failed abysmally hence there is an acute need to achieve a settlement leaving it to later is just making it worse and worse! Nevertheless issues such as tauvash clearly such matters should be subject to a formal peace settlement not the current give us this or there will be war , clearly the demand for a near sovereign access “zangegur corridor” likely to follow between Azerbaijan and Nakheivan is posture which smacks of the behaviour of 1930s Germany. As for Pashinyan blocking foreign nationals even if of Armenian stock for views not in accordance is the intolerance of committed liberals . It’s also ironic since many of the diaspora share his cool views of Russia although like many in a diaspora have stronger views than the countrymen in the homeland this is a universal phenomena not particular to Armenia and Armenians. Nevertheless Armenia could simply deport him back to France and avoid this tragedy.

  3. Reply to Zaven,
    So your best kind and ingenious wise words to solve the above hunger strike of fellow French Armenian who has been stuck at the Armenia’s International Airport and is sacrificing hemselfe for his rights to inter his fatherland, is to use one of the cowardly tactics of the incompetent and coward Armenias PM’s words.
    Here are some of those scare tactics that the so called leaders of past 30 + years have been using to silence and de-humanize the whole population of Armenia;
    1) If we kick the Russians and the Russian bases out, then the Turks will swallow us over night.
    2) Lets make peace with Turks and Azeris to avoid war and so we can save your sons from another Genocide.
    3) It’s better to hand in Artsakh, Tavush, etc…, etc…, etc.., then have a war.
    If every cowardly country around the world use these type of tactics then no one will have a country anymore.
    But the good news is Nikol’s days destruction of Armenia and his days in PM’s office are getting close as we speak.

  4. It’s very generous to call Leo Nicolian a journalist. The man is a hack and a known conspiracy peddler in France, on various issues. Two things can be true – it can be wrong to deny entry to the Republic of Armenia to any ethnic Armenian, and this “journalist” can also be a complete joke at best.

    This isn’t exactly a noble cause to rally behind. Surely we have bigger fish to fry.

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