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Anguish Over Missing Men in Armenian Village

May 8, 1991

SHURNUKH, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ The women of this Armenian mountain village wailed Wednesday for missing husbands and sons, the latest victims of fighting between Armenia and the neighboring Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

″Where is my son?″ cried Shoyika Grigorian as she lifted her arms to the sky, tears streaming down her hollow cheeks. ″Please God, help us.″

Shurnukh, an agricultural hamlet of 180 people located on the Azerbaijan border, 142 miles southeast of the Armenian capital of Yerevan, was surrounded by Soviet soldiers Tuesday. Villagers said the men came in three armored personnel carriers and took 25 villagers as prisoners.

One man was killed when the troops seized a television transmitting tower on a mountain near the village. Ten were wounded in the fighting, said Robert Alexanian, chairman of the regional governing council in the nearby town of Goris.

More than 50 Armenians have been killed and scores wounded in nine days of violence along the winding 600-mile border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, according to Armenian officials. The clashes have pitted the Soviet army and Azerbaijani riot police against Armenian police and vigilantes.

For centuries, there has been hostility between Armenia, a mainly Christian republic of 3.3 million, and Azerbaijan, a predominantly Muslim republic of 7 million. Violence flared in 1987 over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan inhabited by ethnic Armenians.

Riots followed in which more than 160 Armenians were killed in the Azerbaijani cities of Sumgait and Baku. Thousands of refugees have fled from Azerbaijan to Armenia, and vice-versa.

The most recent violence has stemmed from attempts by the combined Soviet and Azerbaijani forces to disarm Armenian vigilantes in border areas. The Red Army has seized six villages, including Shurnukh. Less than a dozen men were in the village on Wednesday because most were hiding in the woods and cellars.

Villagers said 36 Armenian police and irregulars had been guarding Shurnukh Tuesday, but fled in an armored personnel carrier when the town was surrounded at dawn by about 200 Soviet and Azerbaijani troops, their faces blackened with grease paint.

Only three Armenian policemen remained in the village and they did not resist the soldiers, who were heavily armed, the villagers said.

They said the soldiers first took away the local school director, a baker and the mayor, then returned with dogs seven hours later to round up all the men.

They ordered the men to lie on the ground spread eagle, then took 22 of them prisoner, including the three policemen, witnesses said.

Mrs. Grigorian, a widow, said she and the other villagers did not know where their loved ones had been taken, but believed they were in Azerbaijan.

Genrikh Movsisian, 55, said he was left behind because he was an old man. He said the soldiers beat up the policemen with their gun butts and blew apart the one-story stone house in which 36 policemen had been living.

Roads to Shurnukh were cut off Tuesday, but journalists in an ambulance flying a white flag were able to get through on Wednesday afternoon. An army helicopter hovered overhead as the villagers told their story.

On the winding road leading to the village was a potato truck with eight bullet holes in its windshield. The driver, Vladimir Gregoryan, said he had been driving to a neighboring town when Soviet soldiers opened fire, wounding him in the left shoulder. Two other passengers also were wounded, one in the head and one in the leg, he said.

Gregoryan, whose shirt was still bloody, claimed he was not given any warning. ″If they had warned me, I would have stopped,″ he said.

Andranik Davidian, 30, who escaped by hiding in the woods, said he believed Shurnukh came under attack because it had been an Azerbaijani village until three years ago. The Azerbaijani residents fled during the violence over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located about 18 miles east of Shurnukh.

All of the village’s current residents are Armenian refugees from Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, and other tense areas.

″They only left the women and children,″ said Anaida Alekian, her two children clutching at her knees. ″The children are crying: ’Where is Poppa? Where is Poppa?‴

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