Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and a major opposition party traded bitter accusations after lawmakers representing them brawled on the Armenian parliament floor on Friday.
The brawl erupted in the presence of Pashinian and his ministers as Edmon Marukian, the leader of the Bright Armenia Party (LHK), lambasted pro-government deputies for their angry reactions to opposition criticism of the government.
Marukian was heckled by some of those deputies affiliated with Pashinian’s My Step bloc and shouted back at them during his speech. One of them, Sasun Mikaelian, then punched him before other lawmakers from My Step and the LHK joined in the resulting fistfight or shoved and chased each other in the chamber.
The session of the National Assembly resumed several minutes later after speaker Ararat Mirzoyan managed to stop the fight with the help of other deputies and Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian.
“I will speak up no matter how much you hit me,” Marukian declared when he again took the floor.
“Who was it that sneaked up and struck me in the back?” he asked, sparking another shouting match with Mikaelian and other My Step deputies.
The session again descended into chaos, with Mirzoyan deciding to interrupt it. It resumed later in the day. Marukian again addressed the parliament before he and other LHK deputies walked out of the chamber in protest
“The incident must have consequences, political consequences,” said the opposition leader. “What happened is not so much our problem as the revolution leader’s problem. We will now leave this auditorium and, depending on political evaluations and consequences, we will draw conclusions … and decide how we will be working in this parliament in the future.”
Speaking in the parliament shortly after the walkout, Pashinian deplored the violence but effectively blamed it on the LHK. He said that his political allies should not have succumbed to what he described as a LHK “provocation” aimed at discrediting the government.
“The incident, which is condemnable, happened over there,” Pashinian said, pointing to an area between the parliament rostrum and the first row of seats. “Why was the person giving the speech standing there? Why did [Marukian] walk off the rostrum and swiftly move towards Sasun Mikaelian? For engaging in a political dialogue?”
Pashinian said he told Marukian at a meeting Thursday that he has “grounds to suspect that you and your activities are an integral part of a plan to use psychological, moral and ultimately physical violence” against members of his political team. The prime minister went on brand Marukian’s party as “parliamentary servants” of former Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian.
A close Pashinian associate, deputy speaker Alen Simonian, likewise accused the LHK of deliberately provoking a violent response from Mikaelian. He dismissed calls for Mikaelian to resign from the parliament.
Simonian and Marukian traded serious insults on the parliament floor last week. The opposition leader was enraged by Simonian’s sexist comments about a female LHK parliamentarian. The vice-speaker apologized to the lawmaker, Ani Samsonian, afterwards.
Pashinian and Marukian are former political allies who used to co-head the Yelk bloc that was in opposition to Armenia’s former leadership. The bloc fell apart after Marukian and his party refused to join mass protests launched by Pashinian in April 2018 against then Sarkisian’s attempt to extend his decade-long rule.
The LHK is one of the two opposition parties represented in the current Armenian parliament. It holds 17 seats in the 132-member parliament.