A major opposition party has accused Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of condoning and inciting violent attacks on its members following an ugly brawl that disrupted a session of Armenia’s parliament on Friday.
The brawl broke out in Pashinian’s presence during a speech delivered by Edmon Marukian, the leader of the Bright Armenia Party (LHK), on the parliament floor. Marukian lambasted pro-government parliamentarians and was punched by one of them before dozens of other lawmakers representing the LHK and Pashinian’s My Step bloc joined in the resulting melee.
Addressing the National Assembly later on Friday, Pashinian deplored the violence but effectively blamed it on Marukian’s party. He said that his political allies should not have succumbed to what he described as a LHK “provocation” aimed at discrediting the Armenian government.
The prime minister went on brand Marukian’s party as “parliamentary servants” of former Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian.
In a statement issued on Monday, the LHK condemned Pashinian’s speech, saying that he thereby “justified, legitimized and encouraged” violence against his political opponents.
“The incident showed that it took the revolutionary prime minister only two years to completely dismantle and demolish the ideas, values and principles declared by that revolution,” it said, referring to the 2018 protest movement that toppled Sarkisian and brought Pashinian to power.
The LHK, which is one of the two opposition parties represented in the current National Assembly, also strongly denied having ties to Armenia’s former rulers. “The prime minister is deliberately labeling Bright Armenia as representatives of the ‘former regime’ in order to justify the hooligan behavior of his deputies in the eyes of his supporters,” it charged.
“What is more, My Step members portray all of their opponents and critics as enemies of the state and the people and anti-state elements who can be legitimately assaulted,” added the LHK statement. It claimed that this “totalitarian mindset” could eventually lead to authoritarian rule in Armenia.
In a weekend video address livestreamed on Facebook, Marukian similarly accused Pashinian of “encouraging” his loyalists to assault opposition figures. “This speech [by Pashinian] demonstrated that their clock is ticking,” he added.
The brawl occurred one day after Pashinian and Marukian held an unexpected one-on-one meeting in the parliament building. The opposition leader claimed afterwards that they only discussed recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Pashinian said in his parliament speech, however, that they also spoke about domestic political issues. He said he told Marukian 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 Armenia’s political leadership and its allies.
In his Facebook transmission, Marukian admitted that Pashinian alleged possible ties between the LHK and the former regime during their conversation. He suggested that the premier might have been angered by his remark that Armenia’s next government will be formed by the LHK.
Hrachya Hakobian, a My Step lawmaker, accused the LHK leader of lying about the agenda of Thursday’s meeting with Pashinian. Hakobian, who is also Pashinian’s brother-in-law, defended the prime minister’s and the parliament majority’s stance on Friday’s incident.
Levon Barseghian, a veteran civic activist who actively participated in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” said, meanwhile, no “provocation” can justify the violent response to Marukian. He said that Sasun Mikaelian, the My Step deputy who was the first throw a punch, must be “held accountable.”
Barseghian also argued: “The same opposition people formed, together with Nikol Pashinian, the opposition in the [former] parliament and they also harshly criticized the [former ruling] Republican Party.”
Pashinian and Marukian used to co-head the Yelk bloc that challenged 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 Sarkisian’s attempt to extend his decade-long rule.
Meanwhile, Mikaelian remained unrepentant and blamed Marukian for the brawl on Monday. He also dismissed calls for his resignation from the parliament. He said he will quit only if Marukian does the same.
“It was [Marukian’s] fault,” declared the 62-year-old veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war. “If he’s man enough to hand his mandate I’ll hand mine too.”
A senior member of Marukian’s LHK, Gevorg Gorgisian, dismissed the offer as “nonsense.” “It’s like catching a robber and the victim of a robbery and prosecuting them on the same charge,” he said.
Mikaelian also set another condition. He demanded an apology from Marukian’s younger brother Edgar who insulted him in a Facebook post which was subsequently deleted by the latter.
“Young man, your mother is sacred for me, but if you don’t apologize for what you said … you all know who I am, my actions, my words, and nothing good will await you,” Mikaelian warned in the parliament.
Gorgisian condemned the warning as a threat of fresh violence. He said that unlike Edgar Marukian, Mikaelian is a state official and must behave accordingly. “The National Assembly is not the place for a language of threats,” Gorgisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.