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Fists fly during sitting of Armenia’s National Assembly

17 May 2020
A fight in the Armenian Parliament. Screengrab of video via Civilnet.

Tensions were high in Armenia’s National Assembly this past week after a physical altercation broke out between representatives of the ruling My Step and opposition Bright Armenia factions.

On 8 May, during a parliamentary session during which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and members of the Government were present, head of the Bright Armenia parliamentary faction Edmon Marukyan and ruling My Step coalition MP Sasun Mikayelyan got into a physical altercation, that quickly involved multiple other MPs. 

Shortly before the brawl began, Marukyan had condemned a speech that had just been delivered by My Step MP Babken Tunyan. The condemnation led to a heated verbal exchange as Marukyan took issue with Tunayan’s comments. As the two argued, Sasun Mikayelyan joined in and began shouting at Marukyan. 

At one point Mikayelyan yelled ‘I’ll smash your head!’ at Marukyan.  

Soon after Mikayelyan got out of his seat — which was right in front of the podium where Marukyan was standing — and then Marukyan left the podium and walked toward Mikayelyan. 

The brawl broke out with Mikayelyan hitting Marukyan in the face which led to MPs from all sides rushing to intervene. Marukyan was also hit by My Step MPs Artak Manukyan and Vahe Ghalumyan 

After the fight was broken up, Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan continued the session and let Marukyan continue his speech. 

‘Hit me as much as you like, I’m going to talk’, Marukyan said. This led to another heated verbal exchange with Mikayelyan. With Marukyan at one point yelling, ‘nobody can break my neck, this culture cannot be present here, that’s why the revolution happened!’ 

Speaker Mirzoyan immediately called for an intermission, after which, the fight between Bright Armenia and My Step MPs re-erupted and security personnel were called in to put an end to the renewed fighting.

During the intermission, Deputy Speaker Alen Simonyan told reporters that Mikayelyan was not going to resign and that Marukyan and Ani Samsonyan, another Bright Armenia MP who had called Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s politics ‘emotionally unbalanced’ earlier in the day, can ‘resign’ for uttering ‘provocation and profanity’.

‘Biggest defeat since the revolution’

The parliamentary session reconvened several hours later. Marukyan announced that Bright Armenia condemned what happened and, as a show of protest, Bright Armenia MPs left the session.

This was followed by a 15-minute speech by Prime Minister Pashinyan. In the speech, the Armenian Prime Minister condemned the altercation, before verbally implying that Bright Armenia MPs were complicit with corruption. 

‘Yes, I condemn us, I condemn myself and I consider what happened today our and my biggest defeat since the revolution,’ Pashinyan said. ‘But let this not give anyone any hope. I’ve been defeated before [...] but my will is hard as stone.’

Pashinyan said that he believed the fight was partially triggered by a new law passed on 16 April which would allow the state to confiscate ‘illegally obtained’ property. 

‘When the stolen money is returned [to the state] from where will those who receive shares of stolen money get their money which is stolen?’ Pashinyan asked rhetorically. 

The Armenian Prime Minister also said that MPs of the ruling coalition had no choice but to participate in the fight.

‘They’re trying to force us to make a choice: either we have to beat them or our members will be scared of being beaten up,’ Pashinyan claimed. ‘They want to equate us to killers, they want to distract us from our values, take us off balance.’

Pashinyan also repeated a phrase he had used before to threaten representatives of the former ruling Republican Party shortly after the revolution in 2018. 

‘Yes, we will lay you down on the asphalt’, he said. ‘We will not give you the chance to take for yourself the people’s government.’

According to Azatutyun, the General Prosecutor’s Office has started looking into the incident. The video of the altercation and media publications about it have been sent to the Special Investigative Services of Armenia. So far, nobody has applied to the courts and the preliminary investigation was initiated by the Court.

Parliament has not taken any disciplinary action against any party. 

‘Blaming the victim’

On 11 May, Bright Armenia issued a statement condemning the altercation and calling Pashinyan’s speech that day ‘manipulative and fake’ and ‘not based on any facts.’ 

In the statement, they claimed that the authorities not only did not condemn the incident but legitimised it.

‘They deliberately created a situation where the victim was to blame and not the aggressor’, the statement reads. ‘Instead of admitting their own mistakes and expressing regret, they called for a fight against the organisers of the made-up “provocation”.’

During a parliamentary session on 11 May, My Step MP Sasun Mikayelyan accused Marukyan’s brother, Eduard Marukyan, of writing profanities about his mother in a post since-deleted from Facebook.

‘I won’t respond the same way he did’, Mikayleyan said. ‘Young man [Marukyan’s brother], your mother is sacred for me but if you don’t apologise for your remarks, everyone knows the life I’ve led, nothing good will be waiting for you. As someone older than you, I advise you apologise to my parents.’

Mikayelyan went on to offer to resign if Marukyan resigned as well.  

‘If he’s a man’, he said. ‘Then both of us should resign together and let our parties continue their work.’

Head of the My Step faction Lilit Makunts took to the podium after Mikayelyan. 

‘There needs to be political consequences to what happened,’ she said. ‘In addition to Mikayelyan’s proposal [for Marukyan and himself to resign together], we propose that My Step MPs Artak Manukyan and Vahe Ghalumyan [who also hit Marukyan] to resign if Bright Armenia MPs Hrant Ayvazyan and Sargis Aleksanyan also resign.’

She did not state why the latter two should resign. Ayvazyan and Akeksanyan later told News.am that they would not resign, as they did not hit anyone and were only trying to break up the fight.  

Since the incident, Bright Armenia has been boycotting parliamentary sessions.

 

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