Fridtjof Nansen

Scientist, political activist

1922 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

1861-1930

Nansen was a scientist, polar explorer, political activist and diplomat. Although scientific work was always closest to his heart, he first attained fame for his exploration of the North Pole. He led a number of oceanographic expeditions into the polar regions, but once the world was plunged into war in 1914 and exploration was halted, he became increasingly interested in international political affairs. In 1919, he became the president of the Norwegian Union for the League of Nations and at the Peace Conference in Paris spoke as an influential lobbyist for the adoption of the League Covenant and for the recognition of the rights of small nations. In the spring of 1920, the League of Nations asked Nansen to undertake the task of repatriating the prisoners of war, many of them held in Russia. Moving with his customary boldness and ingenuity, and despite restricted funds, Nansen repatriated 450,000 prisoners in the next year and a half.

Nansen also engaged in humanitarian relief work in 1921, during the severe famine in the Soviet Union. His work on behalf of prisoners of war and starving people earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. After 1922, the League of Nations provided “Nansen passports” to stateless refugees to enable them to cross national borders. Nansen was himself made responsible for separating Greeks and Turks after the war between the two countries.

In the last years of his life, he took up the Armenian cause. He worked on plans to enable the repatriation of Armenian refugees to Soviet Armenia and headed the Repatriation Commission (1925-29). Along with his commission, Nansen arrived in Yerevan in June 1925, to investigate and make preparations for the repatriation. He visited the regions of Armenia to find out where the refugees could be accepted.