YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and a major opposition party traded bitter accusations after lawmakers representing them brawled on the Armenian parliament floor on Friday.
The brawl erupted in the presence of Pashinyan and his ministers as Edmon Marukyan, the leader of the Bright Armenia Party, lambasted pro-government deputies for their angry reactions to opposition criticism of the government.
Marukyan was heckled by some of those deputies affiliated with Pashinyan’s My Step bloc and shouted back at them during his speech. One of them, Sasun Mikaelyan, then punched him before other lawmakers from My Step and the Bright Armenia Party joined in the resulting fistfight or shoved and chased each other in the chamber.
The session of the National Assembly resumed several minutes later after speaker Ararat Mirzoyan managed to stop the fight with the help of other deputies and Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan.
“I will speak up no matter how much you hit me,” Marukyan declared when he again took the floor.
“Who was it that sneaked up and struck me in the back?” he asked, sparking another shouting match with Mikaelyan and other My Step deputies.
The session again descended into chaos, with Mirzoyan deciding to interrupt it. It resumed later in the day. Marukyan again addressed the parliament before he and other Bright Armenia Party deputies walked out of the chamber in protest.
“The incident must have consequences, political consequences,” said the opposition leader. “What happened is not so much our problem as the revolution leader’s problem. We will now leave this auditorium and, depending on political evaluations and consequences, we will draw conclusions … and decide how we will be working in this parliament in the future.”
Speaking in the parliament shortly after the walkout, Pashinyan deplored the violence but effectively blamed it on the Bright Armenia Party. He said that his political allies should not have succumbed to what he described as a Bright Armenia Party “provocation” aimed at discrediting the government.
“The incident, which is condemnable, happened over there,” Pashinyan said, pointing to an area between the parliament rostrum and the first row of seats. “Why was the person giving the speech standing there? Why did [Marukyan] walk off the rostrum and swiftly move towards Sasun Mikaelyan? For engaging in a political dialogue?”
Pashinyan said he told Marukyan at a meeting Thursday that he has “grounds to suspect that you and your activities are an integral part of a plan to use psychological, moral and ultimately physical violence” against members of his political team. The prime minister went on brand Marukyan’s party as “parliamentary servants” of former Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian.
A close Pashinyan associate, deputy speaker Alen Simonyan, likewise accused the Bright Armenia Party of deliberately provoking a violent response from Mikaelyan. He dismissed calls for Mikaelyan to resign from the parliament.
Simonian and Marukyan traded serious insults on the parliament floor last week. The opposition leader was enraged by Simonian’s sexist comments about a female Bright Armenia Party parliamentarian. The vice-speaker apologized to the lawmaker, Ani Samsonian, afterward.
Pashinyan and Marukyan are former political allies who used to co-head the Yelk bloc that was in opposition to Armenia’s former leadership. The bloc fell apart after Marukyan and his party refused to join mass protests launched by Pashinyan in April 2018 against then Sarkisian’s attempt to extend his decade-long rule.
The Bright Armenia Party is one of the two opposition parties represented in the current Armenian parliament. It holds 17 seats in the 132-member parliament.