Two opposition deputies set off smoke flares during a session of Armenia’s parliament on Wednesday in a bid to attract public attention to their Civil Contract party’s upcoming demonstrations against Serzh Sarkisian’s continued rule.
The Civil Contract leader, Nikol Pashinian, began touring the country’s northern and central regions on foot on April 2 in advance of the daily rallies in Yerevan that will start this Friday. The two other opposition parties making up the Yelk alliance, the third largest parliamentary force, have refused to join the protests, saying that they will not pull large crowds.
The parliament controlled by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is widely expected to appoint Sarkisian as prime minister on April 17, just over a week after the end of his second and final presidential term.
“Free citizens of the Republic of Armenia, the time has come to prevent Serzh Sarkisian’s third term in office, put an end to HHK rule and build Armenia of our dreams,” Civil Contract’s Ararat Mirzoyan declared from the parliament rostrum.
Armenians should join Pashinian’s party in lighting “our torch of freedom” in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Friday evening, Mirzoyan said before setting off a flare. He was immediately joined by another Civil Contract parliamentarian, Lena Nazarian, holding two other flares.
The parliament auditorium was quickly filled with green and yellow smoke. “Looks like the show has failed,” deputy speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who chaired the session, said moments later.
Parliament speaker Ara Babloyan condemned the Civil Contract action later in the day, saying it threatened to set the parliament building on fire and forced lawmakers to inhale “poisonous substances.” “I’m talking not just as chairman of the National Assembly but also as a citizen and a physician,” said Babloyan. “I consider that action unacceptable.”
The unprecedented action was also criticized by two other Yelk deputies who are affiliated with the Bright Armenia party increasingly at odds with Pashinian. One of them, Gevorg Gorgisian, demonstratively covered his nose with a handkerchief during the incident and demanded that Sharmazanov interrupt the session.
The vice-speaker refused to do that. “Let the public see who does what in the parliament,” he told Gorgisian.
“We are partners here and it would have been right to discuss that action with partners [beforehand,]” said another Bright Armenia deputy, Mane Tandilian. “This was not a partner-like attitude. We should not have been taken by surprise on the parliament floor.”