CHAPTER 17 THE GORBACHOV REFORMS AND THE REVOLT OF KARABAKH

The Regional Committee delegations sent to Hadrut and Martuni, suffered the same failure. Here too, a resulution of unification with Armenia was accepted by majority vote and sent to Moscow.

On February 13, 1988, inspired by the rhetoric of perestroika, 500 students of Agricultural College and Pedagogical Institute of Stepanakert, carrying Gorbachov’s pictures and perestroika-style slogans, marked the start of the series of demonstrations in favour of union with Armenia. On their way to Lenin square, near the Shahumian park they were stopped by the militia. “Don’t you allow Gorbachov to enter the square?”, requested the demonstrators. The militiamen retreated. A rostrum was constructed in the middle of the square. Stepanakert workers, civil-servants, intellectuals, about one thousand five hundred people had already gathered in the square. Arkadi Karapetian was the first to speak. The whole square echoed his appeal of unification. Grigor Afanasian ended his speech with the words; “Down with Kevorkov!”. Meanwhile the high rank Baku officials and the members of Regional, District Bureaus had gathered in Kevorkov’s office to pass a law on forbidding rallies and demonstrations. Later the members of the Hadrut Bureau told; “Konovalov told that during his talk with Lukianov the latter had informed that Gorbachov had been reported about the situation in Karabakh and had noted that the social-economical problems should be solved jointly, while territorial problems wouldn’t be discussed… T. Orujev and M. Asadov threatened us, saying; “what if the Azerbaijanis of the neihbouring attack your villages” or “how are you going to get home passing through Fizuli and Jebrail, aren’t you afraid to be stopped there? And who is going to be responsible for the results? You too are enclosed in an enclave”. When they were told that only 14 thousand people lived in our region, they said; “Look at them! they shouldn’t have been granted even a regional status.” The population of Hadrut was 33 thousand Armenians in 1913 and 16 thousand in 1970.

The Soviet internal troops under Grigorev and Safonov marched into Stepanakert. The vallies and demonstrations came to an end. On February 15 the Azerbaijanis of Shushi responded with a rally, protesting against the Armenian will for the incorporation of Karabakh into Armenia. But masses of demonstrators did not stop arriving in Stepanakert from the neighbouring Armenian villages. Two thousand Azeri militiamen arrived from Baku, Kirovabad and other regions and guarded the streets and squares of Stepanakert. The number of the demonstrators was already 30 thousand. It was the time to set up an organizing official committee to lead the masses. The heads of the Stepanakert enterprises applied to the collectives of workers for representatives. Everything was done based on principles of democracy. On February 16 the 33 representatives of the workers’ collectives gathered in the publishing house of the newspaper “Soviet Karabakh” and elected a committee of nine to lead the movement. The committee got the name “Crane”. The manager of the Stepanakert plant of construction materials Arkadi Manucharov was elected the chairman of the “Crane Committee”. (the name crane refers to a well-known Armenian poem and song about the bird flying from the homeland and is a symbol of homesickness for Armenians). Arkadi Manucharov was one of the authors of the 1965 petition of Karabakh Armenians addressed to the Communist Party and government of the USSR and was later forced to seek exile in Armenia.

On behalf of the Karabakh Communists a telegram was sent to Moscow. It read; “The officials of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the Nagornoy Karabakh Autonomous Region, seriously worried by the tense and threatening situation of the region, insist on the arrival of the Commission of the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party.”15

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