YEREVAN -- Armenian parliamentarians from opposing parties exchanged blows amid a disagreement over the government’s economic response to the coronavirus crisis.
During a debate on May 8, Edmon Marukian, the leader of the Bright Armenia opposition faction, accused the ruling My Step faction loyal to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of failing to help ordinary citizens amid the economic shutdown.
The opposition has called for larger cash payments to citizens.
Marukian's criticism triggered angry remarks from My Step lawmakers, including Sasun Mikaelian. Displeased by what he heard, Marukian stepped down from the podium midway through his speech and approached Mikaelian, who stood up from this seat. The two threw punches at each other before it was broken up by other members of parliament.
“No matter how hard you hit me, I will continue to speak up,” Marukian stated once he returned to the podium.
"The  revolution took place also to establish a culture of debate here in this parliament,” he said, referring to the events that brought Pashinian to power two years ago.
Parliament Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, seeking to cool the tension in the chamber, soon interrupted Marukian’s speech to announce a break.
Pashinian later condemned the fistfight, but blamed the opposition lawmaker for picking the quarrel. Pashinian said Marukian’s decision to step down from the podium indicated he was intent on fighting.
“Having watched the video of the incident, I cannot but describe what happened as a miserable provocation,” said Pashinian.
However, Pashinian also lamented that his party members “give in to provocations.”
Armenia has more than 3,000 registered cases of COVID-19 and 43 deaths. The government has imposed a nationwide lockdown.
The nation’s economy is dependent on international tourism and remittances from citizens working abroad. The spread of the coronavirus has decimated leisure travel as countries seal their borders and put many migrant laborers out of work.
The Armenian government has passed over a dozen measures to support domestic businesses and individuals impacted by the pandemic.
The assistance includes, among other things, government-subsidized bank loans to businesses and individual entrepreneurs; small one-time payments to socially vulnerable groups; and partial subsidies for utility and other bills.
Mikaelian wasn’t the only member of My Step that expressed anger with Marukian during the May 8 debate.
Babken Tunian accused the Bright Armenia leader of handing out his mobile phone number to citizens displeased with the government’s economic response to the coronavirus.
Tunian said he was inundated with phone calls.
Marukian said Tunian gave out his own number to the public after he cast doubt over the number of people dissatisfied with the government.
“When we say that people call us and ask questions [about government assistance], you arrogantly accuse us of telling lies, you claim that no one calls us,” Marukian said.