CHAPTER 17 THE GORBACHOV REFORMS AND THE REVOLT OF KARABAKH

Massive crimes; violent murders and gang rapes, which are impossible to believe to have taken place towards the end of twentieth century, are called just “deeds of hooligans”.

Noisy demonstrations and meetings might have been expected in Yerevan and Stepanakert, but there were none, the people kept their word. The members of the Karabakh “Krunk” Committee congratulated M. Gorbachov on the occasion of his birthday, again declaring that there were going to be no more demonstrations in the city. In this way they expressed there trust in the leader of perestroika.

Despite the calls to attack Shushi, Khojalu and Malibeili, in return for Sumgait, Aghdam and Kirovabad massacres, the leader of the Committee A. Manucharov rejected any idea of application of force, declaring “our only way is the constitutional struggle”.

A group of Moscow Armenian intellectuals, academicians T. Khachaturov, N. Yenikalopian, correspondents of the Academy I. Atabekov, A. Sarkissian, professors M. Sarkisov and R. Sapeniants were charged with the task of preparing special material about the Karabakh Autonomous Region, its political and economical situation, adding their own analyses and suggestions. Staying in the region for a week and studying the situation carefully and thoroughly they suggested, considering the will of the population of the region forming the 5% of the Azerbaijani territory, transfer Nagorny Karabakh from Azerbaijan to Armenia. Parallel to this variant, another one was suggested: to attach the region to the Russian Federation.

However till mid-March, various signs suggested that no positive decision would be taken by the Kremlin. The Stepanakert square came to life again, with 40 thousand people demanding a plenum. This routine went on until 17 March, until the plenum of the Party Regional Committee. The Plenum began at 8 a.m. Forty thousand people waited for it to complete its work. At 1.30 a.m., fifteen and a half hours later, the plenum meeting ended. The following text of its decision was firstly read out to the people in the square;

“Expressing the aspirations of the Armenian inhabitants of the Autonomous Region and the will of the majority of the communists of Nagorny Karabakh, the Party Committee Plenum decides to ask the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU to consider and answer positively the question of the unification of NK Autonomous Region with the Armenian SSR, thereby rectifying the historical mistake of the territorial allocation of Nagorny Karabakh”.

The decision of the Regional Soviet put official circles in Moscow, Baku and Yerevan on their guard. In Yerevan the news was greeted with wild rejoicing. Six thousand Armenian refugees from Sumgait became witting or unwitting propagandists against Nagorny Karabakh remaining within Azerbaijan. The atrocities they described gave rise to an anti-Azerbaijani mood. For the time being there were no acts of reciprocal violence from the Armenian side. Yet the situation was precariously balanced and any act could detonate an explosion.

On 26 March an army was sent to Yerevan. Theatre Square was surrounded with tanks and helicopters hovered over the town, carrying out patrolling flights. Meanwhile Armenian refugees continued to arrive from Azerbaijan, they were registered and some were sent to Karabakh, some stayed in Yerevan and others were dispersed throughout the country. Many of the refugees were of Karabakh origin and to Azerbaijan’s great dissatisfaction, they resettled in Karabakh, increasing the number of the Armenian population in the region.

As to the Soviet press, the earlier TASS communique and Isvestia reported that the riots of Sumgait were provoked by Armenians, because mention had been made of extremists in “their” ranks. Furthermore, the aggression was apparantly mutual, since people of “various nationalities” had died. “Pravda” published an article, headlined the “Provocators”. The preface read; “The editors continuously receive letters, in which our readers express their views on and around the problem of Nagorny Karabakh. Condemning the “democratic” methods of demonstrations and strikes and keeping the state authorities under pressure through them, the authors of the letters are sure that the Armenians and Azerbaijanis cannot be put the blame on for this. In their opinion the people marched into streets and squares unable to bear the burden of decades’ economical, social, ecological difficulties. But there are people who are trying to achieve political capital on the wave of this dissatisfaction, provoking nationalistic passions and blemishing perestroika that way”. In this article too “Pravda”, stigmatizing the “nationalist demonstrations” which “would not effect the friendship between Azerbaijan and Armenia”, avoided dealing with the problem, just putting blames on leaders and supporters of the movement; P. Hairikian (Party of National Self-Determination), S. Grigorians (editor-in-chief of “Glasnost” newspaper), and considered the foreign radio stations and other agencies their patrons, who are trying to provoke “nationalistic clashes” in the USSR.

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