Scuffles Erupt in National Assembly Over Criminal Code Overhaul

Editor’s Note: The National Assembly approved the final reading of this law on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

YEREVAN—A shouting match broke out during a session of the National Assembly on Tuesday following a particularly charged exchange between MPs from the rival Prosperous Armenia Party and ruling My Step alliance faction. 

During deliberations over a new law to combat the Armenian criminal underworld (a powerful network of organized criminals derived from the Soviet-era Vory v zakone-literally “thieves in law”), Prosperous Armenia MP Gevorg Petrosyan complained that he could not understand why this bill was being given priority, sardonically claiming that such enthusiasm for combating organized crime should also be directed toward clamping down on “a three letter word.” The word that Petrosyan was alluding to is understood to be boz, a highly pejorative word in Eastern Armenian, which formally translates to “sex worker.”

Shortly after, My Step MP Arman Babajanyan succeeded Petrosyan on the speaker’s podium and pondered out loud as to whether the “Prosperous Armenia is ready to publicly apologize for such scandalous behavior on the Assembly floor.” Babajanyan also asked the President of the Assembly to condemn Petrosyan’s actions. 

His remarks caused a ruckus within moments after his departure from the podium. Before long, the session was disrupted by verbal altercations while other MPs left their seats to confront each other in person. Fortunately, no blows were struck before National Assembly President Ararat Mirzoyan ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove MPs Petrosyan, Janibek Hayrapetyan, Artur Dalakyan and Arayik Arababyan from the Assembly floor and suspended their parliamentary privileges for the day.

“Those wishing to get into fights should resign from this Assembly and resolve their grievances in the yard,” said Mirzoyan, adding that this behavior was unfit for parliament.

Deputy Prime Minister Alain Simonyan later commented on the incident, describing Petrosyan as “bringing the mannerisms of the criminal underworld into the Assembly chamber.” He also didn’t rule out forwarding the matter to the Parliamentary Ethics Committee which has the power to dismiss unruly MPs.

Gagik Tsarukyan, known to be Armenia’s richest tycoon and leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party, was absent during the session and has yet to comment on the matter.

The bill currently being debated by the National Assembly would overhaul the current criminal code and criminalize “the establishment of a criminal subculture, leading such a movement, getting involved in it voluntarily, or being involved in criminal subculture and spreading it.” The Ministry of Justice, which drafted the bill, insists that new legislation is necessary to more effectively tackle organized crime which, since its emergence in the infamous Soviet Gulag system, is well-entrenched in the country and spread across an international criminal network. Other post-Soviet republics, including Georgia, Ukraine and Russia, have already passed similar laws. 

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

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