Wednesday's session of Armenia’s Parliament was twice suspended because of a brawl between the opposition and ruling party.
‘All the Defence Ministers during whose time people were being discharged from mandatory service by phone call or by money, are traitors’, Hayk Sargsyan from My Step faction said in a speech addressing the parliament.
The statement elicited an angry response from opposition Armenia Alliance MP Seryan Ohanyan, who had previously served as defence minister. The heated 5-minute exchange culminated with Ohanyan throwing a water bottle at Hayk Sargsyan.
A cacophony erupted as MPs began to yell insults at each other, with some leaping out of their seats and rushing for the centre of the room. A melee then broke out amongst MPs from both the government and opposition, until parliament security managed to separate the two sides and the parliamentary session continued.
One hour later, the session was suspended again. As Armenia Alliance MP Vahe Hakobyan was delivering a speech, MPs from the ruling party began to shout him down — another fight broke out with Ruling Civil Contract Party MP Vahagn Aleksanyan appearing to have delivered the first blow, aiming a kick at Hakobyan.
Not the first time
Wednesday’s brawl was not without precedent. Only the previous day, a brief scuffle broke out while Prime Minister Pashinyan delivered a speech introducing the government’s five-year action plan as Anna Mkrtchyan, an MP from I Have Honour bloc called Pashinyan a ‘capitulant’ and Parliament Speaker ordered security to remove her from the hall.
Anna Mkrtchyan, as well as Armenia Alliance MP Artsvik Minasyan who jumped up to aid her, were forcefully dragged out by the security officials. An ambulance then was called for Anna Mkrtchyan who appeared to be injured. Minasyan’s blouse was also ripped by parliamentary security.
Journalists pushed out
As violence broke out between MPs, journalists too found themselves the victims of violence.
A video shot by a Civilnet journalist Gevorg Tosunyan shows that journalists covering the session were manhandled and violently forced out of the press room of the parliament, so they could not film the brawl.
Security officials were also reportedly threatening a camera operator working for News.am and forcibly deleted footage of the parliament fight. The journalists were banned from following the session from the press library of the parliament.
In recent weeks journalists have also had to deal with a new set of restrictions in parliament, with their access limited to specific spaces within the parliament building.
In response to the restrictions, journalists staged a small protest in the parliament on Tuesday. With one poster held by journalists reading ‘Nikol Pashinyan, you are no longer a journalist’ — a reference to the Armenian Prime Minister's previous role as the editor of the Armenian Times newspaper.
Pashinyan in turn has since said that the government is planning to set up norms of etiquette for journalists and make sure whether the journalists and media outlets behave appropriately.
‘Today we have very unprecedented situations in the National Assembly, the government has to address unprecedented situations with unprecedented steps’, the Prime Minister said.