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Passions Flare in Caucasus Over Legislative Resolution

November 30, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ Tens of thousands of Armenians rallied Thursday in Yerevan and demanded that their lawmakers defy Moscow by declaring the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region part of a ″unified Armenian republic,″ local journalists said.

Unconfirmed reports from the Caucasus region in the southern part of the Soviet Union said as many as three people were killed in violence stemming from the sovereignty quarrel over the predominantly Armenian district inside the neighboring republic of Azerbaijan, adding to a 22-month toll of about 100 deaths.

In Moscow, the Soviet legislature on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a resolution disbanding a special commission that had imposed direct Kremlin rule on the hilly region of 160,000 people, which was made part of Azerbaijan in 1923 despite its overwhelming Armenian majority.

The resolution passed by the Soviet legislature says the area is part of Azerbaijan, as provided in the 1977 Soviet Constitution, and will now be controlled by local government bodies under the supervision of an all-union commission.

Instead of calming the situation, the Supreme Soviet’s resolution exacerbated it, a government spokesman said.

″One has to regret that passions are flying high and the people do not understand the very meaning, the very sense, of what this decision contains,″ Foreign Ministry Yuri A. Gremitskikh said in Moscow.

In Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, the republic’s Supreme Soviet legislature and lawmakers from Nagorno-Karabakh met in a special session to debate the Moscow legislature’s resolution, said Armen Dulyan, a spokesman for the republic’s official Armenpress news agency.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan, a member of the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies, presented a draft resolution that would declare Nagorno-Karabakh part of a ″unified Armenian republic,″ Dulyan said.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population, supported by Armenia, has demanded that it be annexed to Armenia because of what it calls years of willful neglect by Azerbaijani authorities.

″The unified Armenian republic will take all necessary measures to defend Nagorno-Karabakh and its citizens from all outside encroachments, as part of the republic’s territory,″ Dulyan quoted the resolution introduced by Ter- Petrosyan as saying.

Speaking by telephone from Yerevan, Dulyan said a ″massive crowd″ of tens of thousands of Armenians rallied outside Yerevan’s House of Political Education, where the lawmakers were meeting, to demand the resolution be adopted.

After hours of heated debate, the lawmakers voted to establish a commission to work through the night to draft a response to the Moscow-based Supreme Soviet’s resolution, the Armenpress journalist said.

In Azerbaijan, businesses are reported to be on strike and freight trains bound for Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia to be idled as Azerbaijanis express displeasure with the resolution.

Savili A. Perets, deputy director of Azerbaijan’s official news agency Azerinform, said some Azerbaijanis believe the observer commission encroaches on their republic’s sovereignty and that the resolution’s provision barring changes in Nagorno-Karabakh’s demographics means Azerbaijani women cannot give birth in the region.

Speaking by telephone from Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, Perets said he had received unofficial reports of three people killed Tuesday in attacks related to the dispute. He could not provide details of the incidents.

In Yerevan, Dulyan said Armenpress had received news of only one death, that of a police major shot and killed on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border near the Armenian town of Goris. Two Armenian civilians also were seriously wounded by the unidentified gunman, who fled, he said.

Activists from both sides said a general strike was under way in Nagorno- Karabakh.

Officials of the special administrative commission have acknowledged that despite the presence of Interior Ministry soldiers, a virtual civil war has raged.

Update hourly