Aleksandr Sarkisian, a businessman and parliament deputy, was jeered by the protesters, furious with a government initiative to allow foreign-language schools in Armenia, as he made his way into the parliament building to attend a debate on the matter on Thursday. Some of them greeted him with “Illiterate! Illiterate!” chants.
Video of the incident circulated on the Internet shows Sarkisian swearing at the small crowd. The Yerevan daily “Aravot” published the next morning a front-page picture of him also making an offensive gesture. Other newspapers carried reports denouncing the parliamentarian’s behavior.
However, it was publicly defended on Friday by Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of President Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) who was also booed by the mostly pro-opposition protesters. “I believe that even in politics you should respond to insults with insults,” Sahakian told a news conference. “You just don’t have any other option. I personally try to hurl abuse in a literary language, while somebody else responds the way in which he is addressed.”
Sahakian stressed that he too insulted the protesters when he headed to the parliament session on Thursday. “I approached, silenced, looked everyone in the eyes and said, ‘At least I see several Armenian eyes,” he said.
Aleksandr Sarkisian has long faced media allegations of unruly and violent conduct in restaurants and public places. In one such incident reported in 2006, he allegedly insulted and threatened a young journalist for writing an article that cast him in a negative light.
An RFE/RL correspondent witnessed Sarkisian swearing at a female opposition proxy in a polling station during the May 2009 municipal elections in Yerevan. She protested after he openly voted for the HHK in violation of the secrecy of the ballot. “Who the hell are you to lecture me on this country’s laws?” Sarkisian shot back.