CHAPTER 21 DEPORTATION

The coordinated effort of the KGB and Azerbaijan’s communist leadership to destroy the Armenian community was in process. On April 16, 1991 the First Secretary of Azerbaijan’s Communist Party Aiaz Mutalibov held a meeting to discuss the situation in the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Region. The leaders of the republican KGB and MVD took part in it. The secretary of the Informational Centre of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry reported that the leadership of Azerbaijan had made a decision to draw out the population of the Armenian villages Martunashen and Getashen paying them the compensation. Before this meeting, on April 10 and 11 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan had discussed the project of deportation of Armenians from the territory of Autonomous Region of Karabakh.

In the spring of 1991 a new type of offensive was embarked on against the Armenians living in Karabakh and Shahumian region by the joint forces of the USSR and Azerbaijani interior ministries and state security departments. This operation was the realization of Gorbachev’s July 25 decree. It was called operation “Ring”.5

Operation “Ring” started in late April 1991 with the villages of Getashen and Martunashen. After driving out the inhabitants of the Armenian villages Kamo and Kushchi-Armavir, Getashen and Martunashen appeared under siege. Military forces of the 23rd Division of the Soviet 4th Army stationed in Azerbaijan joined with the forces of Azerbaijani Ministry of Interior (OMON or “black beret” forces) to undertake systematic deportations of Armenians. The operation was known as “Ring” because the round-ups followed a pattern that began with Soviet armed personnel carriers circling, sealing off, in some locations, shelling a given village. Next, the army troops along with the Azerbaijani OMON troops would enter the villages, search for weapons and guerrillas, and check the passports of the inhabitants. In the process they interrogated and beat the inhabitants, rounded up male heads of households, and either participated in or allowed the looting and burning of homes. Men rounded up on suspicion of weapons possessions, or of violating passport regulations, were taken to police lock-ups or prisons where Azerbaijani police and jail personnel reportedly beat them on routine basis.6

Before the start of the operation a division of the USSR Ministry of Interior was stationed in Getashen, but, alas, on April 19, 1991 they withdrew. This fact was later confirmed by the Human Rights Commission of Russian Federation, headed by Sergei Kovaliov.7 Colonel A. Polozov (the chief of the military – political department of Karabakh and environs) testified that the order of withdrawal had been given by the chief of the Interior Troops Department. Before the deportation Getashen had a population of 2900 and Martunashen -350.

On the night of April 29 the Soviet 4th Army troops surrounded the villages with tanks and armoured personnel carriers, military helicopters hovered low overhead. The commander of the Soviet 4th Army of the Transcaucasian Region General Sokolov accompanied by the firsty deputy minister of Azerbaijani Ministry of Interior R. Mamedov, had personally arrived at Getashen to lead the operation. It was reported later that the commander-in-chief of the USSR Interior troops Colonel-General Yuri Shatalin was being constantly informed about the course of the operation. On April 30, early in the morning the armoured personnel carriers entered the village and took the key posts. Next the Azerbaijani OMON moved in and started harassing the villagers. It was reportedly carried out with an unprecendented degree of violence and systematic violation of human rights. This fact was confirmed by the Human Rights Commission of the Russian Federation. Many acts of brutality were committed; men were assaulted and killed, women were raped, children maltreated, civilians abducted as hostages. The Azerbaijani citizens from nearby villages came with pick-up trucks and cars, looting, pillaging, stealing everything from household goods to livestock. The Armenian villagers were driven off their land.

An urgent call was sent from Getashen;

“SOS! SOS! SOS!

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