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Scuffle Erupts In Georgian Parliament Over Armenian Genocide Issue

Opposition legislator Jondi Baghaturia's comments drew the ire of fellow deputy Azer Suleimanov, an ethnic Azeri.
Georgia's tumultuous political scene descended further into disarray this week with a bitter scuffle in parliament.

The dispute erupted on April 24 when Jondi Baghaturia, an opposition lawmaker, brought up the prickly issue of whether to recognize as genocide the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

"Citizens of our country, ethnic Armenians, came here yesterday and demanded that Georgia's parliament recognize the Armenian genocide," Baghaturia said.

"I told you, when you organized this one-day PR campaign and recognized the Circassian genocide, I told you not to do it! Now, I'd like to know what you will tell these people! After all, they are citizens of our country."

Last year, Georgia became the first country to recognize the expulsion of Circassians from the North Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the late 19th century as genocide.

The recognition was personally backed by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

'Unruly Class'

Baghaturia's comments drew the ire of fellow deputy Azer Suleimanov. His family's country of origin, Azerbaijan, is a staunch ally of Turkey, which rejects the term "genocide" for the Armenian mass killings.

When Baghaturia dismissed his objections with a wave of his hand, Suleimanov angrily reached into his pocket, drew out a tube of Vaseline and flung it at Baghaturia.

The pair quickly began scuffling and had to be separated by security. (see video of the scuffle here)

The brawl drew in several other deputies and involved Baghaturia throwing his pen at a lawmaker from the ruling party (who, incidentally, slapped an opposition deputy last year in an argument over the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia).

Parliament speaker David Bakradze eventually put an end to the dispute by saying that discord in parliament would only serve to benefit Georgia's "only enemy," likely a veiled reference to Russia.

Ironically, the brawl was witnessed by a group of schoolchildren who had come for a lesson in civic education.

"It looks," Bakradze had told the children as deputies prepared for the session, "like our class is noisier than yours!"

Written by Claire Bigg, based on reporting by Mzia Paresishvili