CHAPTER 17 THE GORBACHOV REFORMS AND THE REVOLT OF KARABAKH

In Baku everyone refused to consider even for a moment that Karabakh might be handed over to Armenia. Requests from Stepanakert for unification with Armenia were seen as nibbling away at the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. In this rare instance the people and the Party were indeed, as the Communist slogan used to say, as one. During the night of 22-23 February the First Secretary of the Karabakh Regional Party Committee was replaced. Now the area was being run by H. Pogosian, who was fairly popular with the people. The dismission of Heidar Aliev’s puppet Kevorkov was the victory of democratic forces. On that day 800.000 people gathered in Theatre Square of Yerevan.

Meanwhile, the situation on the borders of the Karabakh was becoming more tense. It was impossible to get to Stepanakert by road due to road blocks. Cars with Karabakh numbers were being stopped, passengers and drivers murdered, the cars reduced to scrap metal. Several members of Lachin militia were patrolling the road from Armenia. The oil store at Askeran was ransacked, a mill-attacked, in the course of which the grain had been destroyed, a cane processing works was setalight, many hectares of vineyards were ruined. In Stepanakert such events aroused waves of hostile emotions, for everyone was conscious that only self-control, discipline and maintenance of order would save the enclave from catastrophic conflict.

A group of journalists from Armenian television – B. Karapetian (commentator), H. Petrossian (editor-in-chief of “Yeter” newspaper), K. Davtian (producer) and G. Simonian (cameraman), overcoming the border difficulties within 2 days, on February 23 managed to reach to Karabakh via Kazakh – Kirovabad – Shahumian road. They shot video films about the demonstrations in Lenin Square, talked to the activists of the movement, and prepared reports presenting the real situation of the region, intending to make the world community to react. The civilized world could not be indifferent to the lawless efforts of the authorities to put down forcibly the rising of a whole nation, thus preventing Gorbachov from taking extreme measures.

In spite of Gorbachov’s notions of glasnost (openness) and democracy, the Soviet mass media preferred not to get involved in the interracial conflict, awaiting a signal and guidance on the way to cover the Karabakh situation. Moreover, when it was clear that a signal was imminent and the shape of the guidence became quite transparent, the TASS news agency made a provoking announcement calling the whole nation “a group of extremists”. There was a moment when Gorbachov could solve the problem, correcting the mistake of Stalin’s “autonomization”, but he and his apparatus preferred not to carve up the unitary state.

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