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Deputy chair of Armenian parliament headbutts far-right leader

30 April 2020
Alen Simonyan (left), Artur Danielyan. Photo: Armenpress.

The deputy chair of the Armenian Parliament, Alen Simonyan, has attacked a far-right government critic in the street allegedly after he swore at Simonyan.

On Wednesday, Simonyan said he bumped into Artur Danielyan, who heads far-right political group Adekvat and is a vocal government critic in the street by chance.

According to Simonyan, he greeted Danielyan to which Danielyan responded by swearing at him. In response, Simonyan said he headbutted Danielyan leading to a fight.

The fight resulted in Danielyan’s nose being injured while Simonyan received injuries to his face, ear, and temple. 

Artur Danielyan. Photo: Aysor.am

Danielyan was arrested before being sent to hospital to treat his injuries. 

The fight came just a day after Simonyan was forced to apologise for making sexist remarks about a fellow MP in parliament. 

Danielyan’s organisation, Adekvat, published a statement on Wednesday evening calling on the authorities to publish footage of the altercation. 

They claimed that it was a provocation on behalf of the authorities since Simonyan was the first to attack. 

‘We condemn the fact that the deputy chairman of [parliament] has been behaving like a hooligan these past two days’, reads the statement. ‘We also don’t regret that he got what he deserved’, it continues, referring to the injuries Simonyan sustained.

In a live video broadcast several hours after the altercation, Simonyan addressed the incident claiming he responded the way he did because of a previous occasion in which Danielyan tried to attack him. 

During the incident in 2016, Danielyan swore at Simonyan and tried to attack him, however, it did not result in a physical fight, and Danielyan later apologised. 

Simonyan said that as a state official he should have refrained from attacking but that he could not let the insult go unanswered. He thanked the many people who expressed their support and said he would comply with law enforcement agencies however they see fit. 

Danielyan’s lawyer has announced that they will be taking Simonyan to court for the attack. 

Parliament descends into name-calling

A day before the fight, Simonyan was roundly criticised for making sexist remarks about a fellow MP opposition Bright Armenia MP Ani Samsonyan. 

He made the remarks during discussions of a bill that would allow the government to use ֏150 billion ($312 million) from the 2020 budget to help mitigate consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The law currently requires parliamentary approval for reallocations of more than 3% of the budget; ֏150 billion represents 8.1% of the 2020 budget. 

The government has insisted that the change will only be in force during the pandemic. 

Bright Armenia proposed to instead pay out ֏100,000 ($210) to 500,000 households and to double pensions, a proposal rejected by the government as unaffordable

During the discussions, Bright Armenia’s Ani Samsonyan accused the ruling party of being out of touch and not realising that people were going hungry and struggling to pay their utility bills. 

Ani Samsonyan. Photo: Still from Youtube video/tert.am

‘Go tell the people what your targeted policies are’, said Samsonyan. ‘Don’t forget to take your deputy chairman [Alen Simonyan], who considers our proposal populist. Even though, maybe you shouldn’t take him because people in your own party don’t take him seriously. How can we and the people?’ 

Simonyan, who was not present during this statement, addressed Samsonyan upon his return. 

‘I want to ask you to stop talking about me, I’m a married man. I’m under the impression that you want to talk maniacally. It’s not a good look on you.’

He went on to say he would not address what Samsonyan said but, instead, would address Edmon Marukyan, the head of the Bright Armenia faction. 

‘Marukyan who hides behind your [Samsonyan’s] skirt asks you or Gorgisyan [a Bright Armenia MP] to talk in his stead because he won’t come down to our level, he won’t talk, but I’m going to tell him what I’m thinking,’ said Simonyan and went on to accuse Marukyan of not supporting the 2018 Velvet Revolution.

This led to a heated exchange between Marukyan and Simonyan during which Marukyan called Simonyan ‘vapid’ and ‘an immoral lackey’ and Simonyan called Marukyan ‘a political cleaning cloth’.

‘I respect all women’

The feud was widely criticised and Simonyan’s remarks about Samsonyan were condemned as sexist.

Naira Zohrabyan, an MP from the opposition Prosperous Armenia party posted a picture of Samsonyan on Facebook with the caption: ‘Decency and politeness are highly valuable, so don’t expect it from everyone… ’ 

Human Right Defender of Armenia Arman Tatoyan also condemned Simonyan’s remarks. ‘Targeting a women’s gender to offend her and doing so by offending her private or family life is unacceptable’, the statement read. ‘Respect toward women, guaranteeing her dignity, and fighting against stereotypes has to be everyone’s mission.’

In a post on Facebook, Samsonyan thanked people for their support. ‘I accept this not as support for me, but first of all, as support for changing the culture.’ 

It did not take long for Simonyan to apologise for his remarks in a live broadcast on Facebook. ‘I respect all women’, said Simonyan. ‘I said those things in anger. I hope people understand the fact that I have apologised.’

Fellow My Step MP Taguhy Ghazarian praised the apology, saying she was proud of her colleague. 

‘The aim of our party is to change the culture’, she said in a statement. ‘I have heard many things said in parliament that were more condemnable [than Simonyan’s remarks]. I hope this will set a good example for others to be more careful before they speak.’

In an interview with Media Lab, human rights activist Zaruhi Hovhannisyan said that an ethics committee should be created to prevent such sexist remarks from occurring in state institutions. 

‘There have been similar incidents which should have led to the creation of such a committee,’ said Hovhannisyan. 

‘Such incidents will continue to take place until proper measures are implemented and the parliament does not give an adequate response to such violations of human rights and humiliation.’

Bright Armenia head Edmon Marukyan went live on Facebook that evening and apologised for his role in the feud. 

However, he accused the ruling My Step faction of purposefully lying about the facts in order to turn down Bright Armenia’s proposal. He also condemned Simonyan’s sexist remarks.

Parliament reconvened Wednesday and approved the government’s budget bill by 101 votes to 17. 

The opposition Prosperous Armenia supported the bill despite insisting they did not completely agree with it. ‘The government does not have a lot of alternatives,’ said Prosperous Armenia MP Melkumyan during the hearing. ‘We are voting for the bill for the interest of the people.’

The Bright Armenia faction voted against the bill and have continued to claim the government is lying about the available funds. 

‘Those are savings, it’s not the army’s, it’s not for state pensions, it’s not for salaries, it’s separate,’ Marukyan told Azatutyun. ‘It’s the people’s money, it came from their taxes. They don’t want to give the people’s money back to the people so they can pay their utility bills.’

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