CHAPTER 17 THE GORBACHOV REFORMS AND THE REVOLT OF KARABAKH

The first attempts to lift the informational blockade of Karabakh was Henry Borovik’s TV programme “Policia, Karabakh, Meditations”. In the situation of Communist censorship the author had tried to give an objective and true view of the problem as much as possible. With the programme he set up a new “position” in the war against informational blockade.

The Stepanakert square was closed on demonstrators day and night. The people chose a new way of expressing their will. They gathered in the circlyng square. They continued chanting. “Lenin, Party. Gorbachov, Unification. We believe in perestroika. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR will support us”. The foreign politicians and correspondents were surprised. Did the naive Armenians still believe in the perestroika? But the Karabakh Armenians probably thought that it was impossible to solve their problem being hostile to Gorbachov and the Party for the time being.

Meanwhile the powerful national front in Armenia; the Karabakh Committee, combined nationalism with ecological cencerns and a firm commitment to democratic politics. The Azerbaijani intellectuals created the Azerbaijan People’s Front, though it never acquired the degree of authority, organization and discripline over the crowds that the Armenian nationalist achieved.

The Stepanakert demonstrators continued to express protest against Vasilenko as Procurator – General of the region and deputy Procurator General Bairamov, both of them were appointed by Baku authorities. The two officials had at once set to check the city graveyard, trying to estimate the value of the tombstones erected by the leaders of the movement on the tombs of their relatives. This way they aimed at bringing charges against the mentioned leaders for illegal incomes. Seing the investigators working in the graveyard, the Armenians felt insulted and the sense gave rise to a new way of demonstrations.

The Shushi Azerbaijanis responded the Armenian movements with their own rallies in the town. In an interview to the local T.V. the Shushi resident Earnest Mnatsakanian told about the first rally in Shushi. Calls to drive the Armenians out of Shushi were heard. The crowd chanted “Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan”, “Not an inch of land to Armenians”. On May 15, gathering in the market square, the crowd moved to the building of Regional Committee. The Sumgait symptoms were developing and beginning to emerge. An appeal to the Central Committee was read. It was demanded to dissolute the Autonomous Region, suggesting a Moscow representative to be appointed First Secretary. When the term “friendship” was mentioned, the crowd shouted “without Armenians”. The Azerbaijanis of neighbouring regions had arrived in Shushi. Armenians were refused to be given food and bread in shops. The Armenians were dismissed from employment, they were stoned and beaten up in streets. The internal troops were unable to protect the Armenian families from the growing threats. Four Armenian citizens of the city left for Moscow to protest against the unlawful actions of Azerbaijanis. Earnest Mnatsakanian was one of the delegates. The correspondents of Pravda Ovcharenko and Chernenko making an anti-Armenian report used his name and wrote that he was ashamed of his compatriots. The Armenians condemned Mnatsakanian for betrayal of his country. After the incident the poor man appeared nowhere.

The whole country was set against the Armenians, awaiting the events of 26 March. On 24 March in Moscow the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers gave out a decree concerning the socio-economic development of Karabakh. Though expected, the decision came as a thunderbolt, denying the reattachment, threatening legal action and condemning nationalist and extremist demonstrations. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR considered it “inadmissable to strive to solve complex national and territorial problems by exercising pressure on the organs of state power in an atmosphere marked by the exacerbation of emotions and passions, whilst setting up all kinds of illegal bodies proposing the changing of the state and administrative bounderies laid down in the USSR constitution with consequences impossible to foresee”. It was said in the resolution that Gorbachov himself called on the deputies of the SSR of Armenia and Azerbaijan “to improve their mass political and educational work amongst the population, always using Leninist principles as the basis for the nationalities policy and for friendship and unity between the peoples of the USSR; to make a profound analysis of all the reasons for the exacerbation of inter-ethnic relations; to eliminate such conflicts and to take energetic measures against all demonstrations of nationalism and extremism”.

Although a number of economic and cultural measures were decreed, they could not lessen the effect of the refusal. The Armenians were disillusioned. instead of the expected mass meetings and speeches, the day of March 26 passed quietly. The army quit Yerevan. April 24 is the annivarsary of the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Turks. The students of University installed a khachkar to the memory of Sumgait, next to the monument to the 1915 genocide. Two days later by government decree the Karabakh Committee and the Krunk Society of Karabakh were disbanded. On May 21 Moscow announced the simultaneous dismissal of the first secretaries of the Azeri and Armenian Communist parties, who were replaced by Abdul-Rahman Vezirov and Suren Harutiunian respectively.

On May 14 and 15 rallies took place in all the regional centres of Azerbaijan. In Baku 15 thousand Azerbaijani students marched into the Armenian district “Khutor” chanting, “Do away with Armenians!” The crowd was on the verge of a new slaughter. An over-excited and frightened Armenian fired and killed the leader of the mob, which hostily retreated. Another part of the demonstrators were shouting at the building of the Supreme Council; “Freedom to the heroes of Sumgait”, “They saved Karabakh”. Even a fund was raised to support the families of the “heroes”, who had been accused of aggravated hooliganism rather than contemplating genocide at the court hearing and were to be set free soon. Mass rallies in Baku were led by a dynamic young worker Neimat Panakhov, who belonged to the less-educated and less-privileged class of Baku workers. The Azerbaijan People’s Front intelligent leaders were replaced by Panakhov’s adherents. The Front was torn socially between those concerned with the many problems facing Azerbaijan and those who had concentrated on Karabakh issue.

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