Remarks by an opposition lawmaker about Armenian community’s calls for recognizing the 1915 mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, triggered an incident during the parliamentary session on April 24 involving a brief scuffle and exchange of insults between MPs.
As part of routine statements, usually made by MPs during sessions on Tuesdays, MP Jondi Bagaturia from the opposition parliamentary faction, Unity for Justice, took the floor from the Parliament’s rostrum to speak of various issues and one of the issues he raised was last year’s decision by the Georgian Parliament to recognize 19th century massacre and deportations of Circassians by the Tsarist Russia in the northwest Caucasus as genocide. He recalled this decision and criticized it in the context of requests from Georgia’s Armenian community to recognize the massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Empire as genocide – such appeals are usually made almost every year in April, when the anniversary of those tragic events are marked.
“When you recognized Circassians’ genocide just for the purpose of a one-day PR show, we [warned] you not to do that, because we would have nothing to tell to our Armenian citizens. I wonder what are you going to tell these people now? These are our citizens; these are our compatriots; you [referring to ruling party MPs] should bear responsibility for that,” MP Bagaturia said.
Remarks triggered angry reaction from Azer Suleimanov, a ruling party majoritarian lawmaker from Marneuli single-mandate constituency in Kvemo Kartli region, predominantly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis. MP Suleimanov was shouting at MP Bagaturia while the latter was speaking.
“I’ll take care of you when I leave [Parliament's] rostrum, give me some time,” MP Bagaturia responded to MP Suleimanov.
Then MP Suleimanov approached the rostrum holding, what seemed to be, a cream tube and tossed it on the rostrum in front of PM Bagaturia, telling him: “Here is a present to you from the Azerbaijani people.”
MP Bagaturia responded by throwing the tube back at MP Suleimanov; then a Parliament marshal, overseeing rules and order in the chamber, as well as some ruling party lawmakers rushed to the rostrum, dragging MP Bagaturia away and for next few minutes lawmakers involved in the incident continued exchanging verbal insults.
Few minutes later MP Suleimanov took the floor and in his remarks he dubbed MP Bagaturia as “Bagaturyan”, calling him “our Armenian colleague”.
“[MP Bagaturia] unfortunately remains stick to his Armenian opinion about Armenia from sea to sea and about made-up genocide. What genocide are you talking about? Your Armenian bandits killed over 60,000 Azerbaijanis in 1918 in various parts of Azerbaijan…” MP Suleimanov said, but was immediately interrupted by Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze, who ordered to turn off microphone.
“There will be no speeches any more about this issue; this is very sensitive and painful issue,” Bakradze said, adding that “our brotherly” nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as of Turkey “have undergone through a very difficult history and I really do not want this difficult history to become a topic for emotional and political discussion in this chamber.”
“Pain of Armenian nation is a pain for us too; the same is about Azerbaijan and Turkey, because all three are our neighbors and friends,” Bakradze added.
In their speeches later during the same session, several lawmakers, both from the ruling party and parliamentary minority, touched upon the incident with some of them slamming MP Bagaturia for raising the issue and describing him as “a provocateur.”
“I absolutely agree with you when you turned off the microphone for [MP Suleimanov],” a ruling party lawmaker Akaki Bobokhidze told the parliamentary speaker and asked him to apply the same rule to others whose “remarks are obviously provocative”.
“Bagaturia is an obvious provocateur, who spares no efforts to trigger problems with those countries, which are our friends,” he added.
“Bagaturia is a provocateur,” Guram Chakhvadze, a lawmaker from the parliamentary minority group, said. “What he said today is directed against the Georgian national interests.”
MP Giorgi Targamadze, leader of Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) and of parliamentary minority group, said “caution is needed when speaking on issues like this.”
“It is about a very delicate issue, which may trigger very complicated processes, which may harm everyone,” he continued. “I’m not going to lecture anyone. The fact is that this Parliament is an example of friendly cooperation between Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani [MPs] regardless of our political views… I understand emotions that followed statements made here… but my request would be to put an end to this incident. We respect our shared problems; focusing on certain episodes of our past, which may distance our nations, should not be our goal… I want to express my respect to all of those ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis who take part in building of the new Georgian state.”
Comments on the issue were concluded by remarks from Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze, who said: “One of the great things that has been done in Georgia in recent years is the fact that notion of ‘Georgian citizen’ has been firmly rooted in our country and regardless of our ethnic background we are all equal citizens of this country.”
“The biggest enmity one can do against Georgia today is to divide Georgia based on ethnicity,” Bakradze continued. “So I call on colleagues not to, wittingly or unwittingly, do something that is damaging for our country, not to divide our citizens and not to trigger confrontation with Georgia’s neighbors.”
“As far as emotions are concerned, I understand it, because the issue is one of the most painful for our neighboring and brotherly peoples; we have gone together through a difficult and tragic history and there have been many tragic pages in this history, recalling of which always triggers emotions; but I want to state once again that because this is the Georgian Parliament, there will be no statement in this chamber that may insult our brotherly Armenian nation; because this is the Georgian Parliament there will be not a single statement in this chamber that may insult our brotherly Azerbaijani people and the pain, the tragedy which our neighboring nations have gone through is the pain and tragedy for us too; but this tragedy does not require political speeches in this chamber and such speculations which we’ve heard from some of our colleagues.”
“So let’s not yield to provocative remarks,” Bakradze added. “Let’s not entertain our enemy with our shared pain.”
Later on April 24 a senior ruling party MP Giorgi Gabashvili said no matter how provocative MP Bagaturia’s remarks were, there was no justification to comments made by MP Suleimanov. He also said that MP Suleimanov had received “reproof” from the ruling party.