Armenian law-enforcement authorities have formally launched a criminal investigation into last week’s violent clash between opposition and pro-government members of Yerevan’s municipal council.
The incident occurred during a session of the council chaired by Mayor Taron Markarian on February 13. Two female councilors affiliated with the opposition Yerkir Tsirani party were confronted by their pro-government colleagues when they tried to hand Markarian glass containers filled with sewage collected from a damaged sewer pipe in the city’s Nubarashen district. They called the foul-smelling substance a “gift” from Nubarashen residents.
The two sides scuffled and shouted insults at each other. Yerkir Tsirani’s Marina Khachatrian, slapped a male councilor representing the ruling Republican Party (HHK) after being jostled by him. The latter slapped her in response. Khachatrian and two other Yerkir Tsirani members, including the party leader Zaruhi Postanjian, were then physically forced to leave the council auditorium.
Postanjian sent a “crime report” to the Armenian police. The police also received a separate complaint from the municipal administration which blames the outspoken oppositionists for the violence.
A police spokesman, Ashot Aharonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday that a criminal case has been opened in connection with the incident under Criminal Code articles dealing with hooliganism and assault. He said the police have sent the case to another law-enforcement body, the Investigative Committee, for further investigation.
It was not immediately clear which side is risking prosecution for the high-profile incident which was witnessed and filmed by many reporters.
In what appears to be a related development, officials from the Mayor’s Office on Monday stopped Postanjian from showing a group of journalists around the municipality building and an adjacent parking lot reserved for Yerevan officials and council members.
Postanjian and the two other councilors affiliated with her party have been unable to park their car there since the February 13 violence. The Yerkir Tsirani leader also said that the municipal administration is refusing to clean up their room. She further demonstrated purported evidence of staffers playing cards in another room during their working ours.
Moments later, the head of Mayor Markarian’s press service, Artur Gevorgian, told the reporters, among them an RFE/RL correspondent, to leave the building. “No journalist has the right to enter the municipality building and move around it without our special permission, even if Mrs. Postanjian can escort you to the room allocated to her faction,” he said before telling police officers to usher them out.
Postanjian as well as Arayik Harutiunian of the Yelk alliance, a more moderate opposition group represented in the Yerevan council, accused Markarian of arbitrarily restricting media coverage of the municipal authorities.
“This is illegal because they thereby restrict the work of the city council,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said Yelk has repeatedly appealed to the Markarian’s staff but has still not received any written rules of conduct for journalists or other citizens visiting the building.
The mayor, meanwhile, met with municipality lawyers and press officers later in the day to instruct them to propose ways of “regulating the work of media” in the building. It was not immediately clear what kind of restrictions he is planning to impose.