An exiled Armenian nationalist leader told Soviet diplomats this week that if Moscow denies him a visa to return to his homeland he plans to fly to Turkey and cross the border on foot.

Paruyr Hayrikian, who was expelled to Ethiopia in July 1988 and stripped of his Soviet citizenship, is now a resident of Los Angeles. In May, he was elected in absentia to the Armenian Supreme Soviet, which has voted to delay electing its president until his return. Hayrikian said he plans to run for the office.

In a meeting at the Soviet Embassy on Wednesday, Hayrikian said he told first secretary Vyacheslav Borovikov and third secretary Garnik Nanagoulian that as a member of the Armenian legislature he has the right to return to the southern Soviet republic.

If he has to walk across the border from Turkey, Hayrikian said he told the embassy officials, 20 Armenian legislators will meet him there and he will invoke his legislative immunity from arrest if any Soviet border guard tries to stop him.

Hayrikian said the Soviet diplomats were noncommital, saying they would have to check with Moscow for instructions.

Martin Colman, executive director of the Washington-based National Council to Support the Democracy Movements, who accompanied Hayrikian, said the embassy officials were cordial and friendly. Colman's organization held a May 1989 meeting in Paris at which exiled nationalists from 10 Soviet republics elected Hayrikian president of a new coordinating group called Democracy & Independence.

Hayrikian said the Soviet diplomats asked his opinion of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's call last week for the disarming of nationalist movements in Soviet territories. Hayrikian said he replied, "I am afraid this is preparation for imposing martial law on Armenia."

Before his 1988 expulsion, Hayrikian spent 18 years in Soviet prisons. He was last arrested in February 1988 and charged with distributing "anti-Soviet slanders" after he helped organize a demonstration of 200,000 people in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. The demonstrators pressed for the transfer to Armenia of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave in Azerbaijan.

Hayrikian then spent four months in a KGB prison in Yerevan, before being expelled to Ethiopia.