The opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) ended on Monday a two-week boycott of sessions of the parliament despite accusing its pro-government majority of not renouncing violent responses to criticism.
LHK lawmakers walked out of the National Assembly on May 8 following a brawl involving their leader Edmon Marukian and deputies from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc. One of those deputies, Sasun Mikaelian, punched Marukian while the latter spoke on the parliament floor in the presence of Pashinian and government ministers.
Pashinian deplored the violence but blamed it on LHK “provocations.” Marukian’s party charged in response that he thereby “justified, legitimized and encouraged” violence against his political opponents. It also demanded Mikaelian’s resignation.
The ruling bloc responded by saying that Mikaelian will resign from the parliament only if Marukian quits too.
The brawl prompted a preliminary inquiry by Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS). The law-enforcement body announced at the weekend that it cannot indict anyone because neither Marukian nor any other parliamentarian suffered multiple blows during the May 8 incident. Citing a “precedent-setting” ruling handed down by the Court of Cassation in 2012, the SIS said that a “single blow cannot be qualified as a beating.”
The LHK rejected this explanation on Monday. It said footage of the incident clearly shows that its leader was hit not only by Mikaelian but also two other My Step deputies. In a statement, the opposition party also insisted that the SIS has enough evidence to bring charges under another article of the Criminal Code that deals with “hooliganism.”
Marukian said the authorities’ response to the LHK boycott suggests that a repeat of the May 8 violence may well be possible.
“We have drawn conclusions and will return to work with those conclusions in mind and in the knowledge that at some point someone could hit us from behind. We have to be careful and look back and around us,” he told a news conference.
“We are dealing with people who can hit us from behind, people who justify violence, people who do not tolerate dissent and label it as a provocation,” claimed the LHK leader.
Alen Simonian, a deputy parliament speaker and senior My Step member, shrugged off these claims.
“People have seen everything and know who Edmon Marukian is in the political sense,” said Simonian. “The authorities have condemned violence and never resorted to it, even when the public demanded it.”