A city councillor was pushed, manhandled, slapped and had her hair viciously pulled by several male colleagues earlier today when she attempted to present Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan with glass jars full of raw sewage.
Donning surgical masks and gloves, city councillor Marina Khachatryan of the Yerkir Tsirani party, along with her colleague Sona Aghekyan brought the glass jars to the council session to highlight the situation of residents in the capital city’s district of Nubarashen. A day earlier, several dozen residents had blocked the street leading to Nubarashen prison, notorious for its decrepit conditions, complaining that sewage from the facility had been seeping into the streets and making residents ill.
The fracas was caught on tape, and in several of the recordings, the mayor’s voice is audible exclaiming, ‘’Stop her, stop her, quickly.’’
The men who came to Mayor Margaryan’s aid include Deputy Mayor Davit Ohanyan, Gor Vardanyan (advisor to the Mayor), and several ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) members of the city council Hovhannes Avanesyan, Sergey Mkrtchyan, Edmond Kirakosyan, Vaspurak Martirosyan and Artak Gasparyan.
Later, former member of parliament for the ruling Republic Party Arakel Movsesyan told reporters that it was lucky for Marina Khachatryan that he was not there. ‘’I will not go into details of what I would do, but what the RPA men have done, they have done well.’’
Many activists, women and men alike, often pay a high price for their activism. However, for women that ‘price’ always seem to come at the expense of how they are perceived - how they should act, what their ‘place’ in the family, society and politics should be, how they should behave, how equal or unequal they are - especially by those in positions of power and strength (both physical and perceived) and clearly by those who hold office.
Regardless of how ‘offensive’ their actions were considered by those in the city council chamber, the collective physical assault on Khachatryan, especially in a chamber of elected officials, is inexcusable and must be punishable.
Following the violent attack on the women of Yerkir Tsirani, Armenia’s Human Rights Ombudsman applied to the Prosecutor General to initiate criminal proceedings against the men involved. The Prosecutor’s office responded saying that an investigation is underway regarding the attack and the issue of criminal proceedings has also been raised in connection with evidence that several journalists were obstructed from doing their work during the brawl.
Later in the evening, a group of people attempted to enter City Hall to condemn the actions of the men involved in the beating of Khachatryan. They were forcibly removed by police, many claiming that they were attacked by security forces. Late last year, the Yerevan Municipality signed a $75,000 contract with the Armenian police to beef up security outside the mayor’s office.
City officials have been aware of the ongoing structural issues with the prison and the ensuing problems it has been causing residents, notwithstanding the conditions under which prisoners are forced to carry out their sentences, yet solutions have yet to been found.
Following the brawl, the council session resumed. In his address to the council, Margaryan warned members of Yerkir Tsirani that if they violated the rules of the council with such behavior in the future, he would call in security forces and prevent them from entering the chamber.
Physical violence is never an alternative to any situation, full stop. Watching the video of the incident is difficult. It seemed as if those who jumped in to ‘control’ the situation did so not to protect Khachatryan, but rather to join the ‘gang’ as it were and in the end, instead of de-escalating the situation, they made it exponentially worse.
A neighborhood forced to deal with the fetid smell of seeping sewage and its potentially disastrous consequences, prisoners who must live in horrible conditions, a councillor physically attacked by a group of men and a city council chamber disgraced.
This will certainly be yet another test for the course of justice in Armenia.