CHAPTER 20 NATIONAL REVIVAL. THE COLLAPSE OF THE USSR THE EMERGENCE OF THE FIFTEEN INDEPENDENT REPUBLICS

The March 5 resolution of the USSR Supreme Soviet on “The Measures of Normalizing the Situation in the Region, in Armenia and Azerbaijan” had no effect. On March 18 the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan SSR, considering the decisions of the Armenian Supreme Soviet and its Presidiums on Karabakh unlawful, applied to the USSR Supreme Soviet to discuss and bring a charge against the USSR deputies to the Supreme Soviet from Karabakh H. Poghossian, V. Grigorian, V. Gabrielian, B. Dadamian and Z. Balayan, whose unlawful calls are encroachments on the Azerbaijani territory and istigate inter-ethnic enmity.6

But nothing, even the arrest of all the leaders could hinder the Karabakh movement, which was already set in motion. The aim of the movement was to achieve a final solution of the problem, a problem which had Narimanov, Bagirov, Aliev and Mutalibov as its founders. The latter, after the escape of Vezirof from Baku was appointed the First Secretary of Azerbaijani Communist Party by the Kremlin. Mutalibov was obliged to carry out several tasks – at once – preserve the power of the national mafia, have a tough stand on Nagorny Karabakh, not to give the power to the Popular Front but satisfy some of their demands.

The strategy of the Azerbaijani government was to use its own power gradually to intensify pressure on the Autonomous Region of Nagorny Karabakh and Republic’s Armenian settlements, while pressing the Kremlin to apply massive force against what it viewed as Armenian separatists in Karabakh. After the January 15 declaration of emergency situation in the region, the military command was the only master of the region. The return of control to local authorities was being constantly postponed. The USSR Interior Ministry and the army became Azerbaijan’s allies to crush the aspirations of the Armenians of Nagorny Karabakh. Viktor Polianichko was the representative of the Centre, under an “Azerbaijani” mask. On May 25, at night, the watchmen of the Soviet Interior Ministry Troops fired on the Armenian houses of Stepanakert and killed the citizen G. Davtian. Eight other people were wounded. On an order from the commander Major-General Safonov and the commander of the military headquarters V.Ovshchinnicov the telephones of the citizens were cut off, the numbers being used by the special Interior Services and Polianichko’s Committee. The flights Yerevan-Stepanakert were officially reduced though it was the only link of Karabakh with the outside world. Thousands of Karabakh Armenians were waiting for days in the Yerevan airport “Erebuni” for a chance to fly to Stepanakert. Meantime Armenian planes, on orders from Major Safonov, were not allowed to land in Stepanakert, where the airfield was full of military vehicles.8

Attacks on Armenian villages increased in the guise of weapon searches. On May 25, three thousand protested peacefully in Stepanakert against the strong-arm tactics of the Soviet and Azerbaijani authorities. The Soviet troops broke up the demonstration with batons. Soon it became evident that the Soviet military forces had joined with Azerbaijani Ministry of Interior (OMON or “black beret forces”) to undertake systematic deportation of Armenians. They started with house – to house searches and arbitrary arrests. Then, according to the decision of the bureau of the Azerbaijani Communist Party Central Committee the First Secretary of the Hadrut Regional Committee Grigor Baghilian was deprived of his party membership and consequently of his post. Aiaz Mutalibov, who was already elected a president, abolished the administration of the region and replaced it with a Regional Bureau, with the Baku representative M. Zubov in the head. An Azerbaijani armed group attacked and took the building of the Regional Soviet, then the members of the Bureau entered the building in the same way as in Stepanakert.9 The Shahumian district became the next victim.

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