A senior pro-government parliamentarian refused to apologize on Thursday for his offensive comments about former Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian’s parents which have caused a storm of condemnation from Armenian opposition politicians and public figures.
Andranik Kocharian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security, made derogatory references to Hovannisian’s “mother and unknown father” on Wednesday after she mentioned him while criticizing government policies.
Speaking to 24News.am earlier this week, Hovannisian said the authorities should scrutinize the assets of not only those former officials who served during former President Serzh Sarkisian’s rule but also those who held senior state positions in the 1990s. She named several such individuals, including Kocharian, who served as Armenia’s deputy defense minister from 1991-1995 and held a parliament seat from 1995-1999.
Kocharian’s reaction to those remarks drew strong condemnations on social media from opposition leaders, other critics of the current government and even some supporters of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
“I believe that insulting, mocking a woman or making her personal life a subject of public discussion because of her political activities is condemnable and extremely unacceptable,” said Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK). “I apologize for this political culture.”
Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, added his voice to the condemnations. “Targeting a personal or family is absolutely unacceptable without any exception, especially if we are talking about a woman,” he wrote.
Significantly, the French ambassador to Armenia, Jonathan Lacote, shared Tatoyan’s “welcome and necessary reaction” on his Facebook page.
“Anything relating to the personal space, the private domain must have no place in our political speech,” said Lilit Makunts, the parliamentary leader of Pashinian’s My Step bloc. “I also want to stress that I would be very happy if such reaction [to Kocharian’s comments] from all sides was also displayed in all [similar] cases.”
Makunts also said that she discussed the controversy with Kocharian. But she did not specify whether she urged him to apologize to Hovannisian.
Such apologies were offered by Sasun Mikaelian, another prominent parliamentarian representing the ruling bloc. “If Andranik Kocharian said such a thing I apologize in his place,” Mikaelian told reporters.
Kocharian himself remained unrepentant, however. He doubled down on his mockery of Hovannisian and her “unknown father” when approached by journalists.
“Unknown means not known to the society,” said the Pashinian ally. “Yesterday the whole Facebook was looking [for Hovannisian’s] father and apparently found him. The unknown is now known.”
Kocharian also hit out at Tevan Poghosian, a well-known pundit and former parliamentarian who also apologized to the former minister. “I phoned Tevan and said, ‘Tevan, what did you apologize for?’” he said.
Hovannisian, 35, served as justice minister from 2015-2017 before becoming a deputy speaker of the former Armenian parliament elected in April 2017. She announced in February this year that she is suspending her membership in the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to start a law practice and run a new think-tank. She remains a vocal critic of the country’s current leadership which ousted HHK leader Serzh Sarkisian from power in April 2018.