By Armen Zakarian
Armenian Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian and a pro-government lawmaker denied on Thursday throwing punches on the parliament floor the previous day despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary.
The dispute occurred mid-way through the government’s regular question-and-answer in the National Assembly, just moments after most journalists covering the session rushed out of the main parliament auditorium to interview Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
At least one reporter claimed to have seen Abrahamian swearing at parliament deputy Aramayis Grigorian and then being punched in the face by the latter. Others heard their angry voices in the parliament lobby.
However, both men denied that the row turned violent. “There was just a businesslike conversation,” Abrahamian told reporters. “I’m surprised that it has been blown out of proportion. There was no problem.”
“We may have raised our voices during the conversation, but there was no fight,” he added.
“There were no punches,” Grigorian told RFE/RL.
The dispute broke out after Grigorian, who owns one of Armenia’s biggest wineries, felt that Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian did not properly answer his question relating to the collection of excise duties on alcohol and protested to Abrahamian. The lawmaker was elected to the parliament from the electoral list of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of three parties represented in the government.
Both officials are the natives of the southern Ararat region where they have similar business interests. Abrahamian, long considered to be Armenia’s unofficial prime minister, was named by President Robert Kocharian late last month to head a newly created ministry which oversees local governments and the government departments on emergencies and refugee affairs. Kocharian also appointed Abrahamian a member of his National Security Council, making him a potential candidate for the post of prime minister.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian sought to downplay the extraordinary argument, saying that neither men did anything wrong. “The minister was not guilty,” he said. “Neither was the deputy.”
(Photolur photo: Hovik Abrahamian.)