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URGENT Armenian Named to Head Disputed Region After Mass Protest in Yerevan

February 24, 1988

MOSCOW (AP) _ Communist Party officials today named an Armenian as leader of a disputed region of the Caucasus Mountains after major protests in the Armenian capital that one source said drew up to 200,000 people.

The official Tass news agency announced late today that Genrikh Pogosyan, 56, was named by the regional party committee to replace Boris Kevorkov as head of Nagorno-Karabakhskaya.

A later Tass dispatch said Armenian party leaders had agreed with the Communist Party Central Committee that the region should remain under jurisdiction of the region of Azerbaidzhan, rather than being annexed by Armenia.

Tass said Armenian leaders had gathered to consider ″urgent measures to normalize the situation″ in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, but it gave no details of the unrest.

A former political prisoner said earlier that soldiers brought tanks into Nagorno-Karabakhskaya to put down protests there and that rumors had reached Yerevan that some demonstrators were killed.

Paruyr Ayrikyan, the former prisoner, said in a phone call from Yerevan that 200,000 demonstrators converged on the capital’s central square today, demanding an extraordinary meeting of the Armenian parliament to resolve the dispute over control of Nagorno-Karabakhskaya.

″There are at least 200,000 people in front of the opera house - I’ve never seen anything like it,″ Ayrikyan said. He said he was speaking from an apartment 100 yards from the protest.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov confirmed that the territory dispute had prompted a major street demonstration in Yerevan, 1,100 miles south of Moscow. He said the gathering was peaceful and that he not know the number of protesters.

Gerasimov confirmed that four senior officials of the national Communist Party Central Committee were sent to the disputed region to quell the protests.

It was not immediately clear whether transfer of power to an Armenian would end the dispute, but the naming of Pogosyan appeared to be a concession by the party to the Yerevan protesters’ concerns.

Today was the second day of unrest in the Armenian capital and included widespread strikes and school boycotts, Ayrikyan said.

Nagorno-Karabakhskaya is 1,760 square miles in area, slightly smaller than Delaware. Most of its 150,000 people are Armenians.

Outbreaks of ethnic tensions have occurred with increasing frequency over the past year as Soviets embrace party chief Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s call for ″glasnost,″ or more openness in tackling the nation’s social problems.

In a speech to the Central Committee last week, Gorbachev expressed concern over nationalist tendencies among the more than 100 peoples comprising the Soviet Union and called for a special meeting to look into the problem.

In a Tass dispatch Tuesday, the government took the unusual step of acknowledging the unrest. The report, read on national television, said the demands of the demonstrators ″contradict the interests of the working people.″

The government newspaper Izvestia on Tuesday night acknowledged a ″mass meeting″ of protesters in Yerevan, student boycotts and the involvement of national party officials in trying to resolve the conflict.

Today’s edition of the Communist Party daily Pravda carried the Tass report, but no commentary on the events.

Ayrikyan said two members of the party Central Committee’s Secretariat, Vladimir I. Dolgikh and Anatoly I. Lukyanov, arrived in Yerevan on Tuesday ″to calm the people.″

Today, Lukyanov and Dolgikh persuaded the demonstrators to send a small delegation to party headquarters in Yerevan to discuss the dispute, Ayrikyan said.

Attempts to reach the offices of Sovietskaya Armenia, the republic’s main newspaper, for an official account of today’s incident were unsuccessful, and calls to other Yerevan telephones also did not go through.

Ayrikyan, 38, spent 17 years in labor camps and exile for heading an underground Armenian nationalist group in the 1960s.

Moscow dissident Tamara Grigoryants said Nagorno-Karabakhskaya, in the Caucasus Mountains north of Turkey, was deeded to Azerbaidzhan in the early 1920s.

Earlier this month, the local government council asked that the region become part of Armenia, citing the Soviet Constitution’s guarantee of the right of self-determination, Ayrikyan said. The party Central Committee rejected the request.

Nagorno-Karabakhskaya was the scene of other mass demonstrations last fall when ethnic Armenians marched to protest what they claimed was mistreatment by Azeris, the dominant population of Azerbaidzhan.

Today was also the 70th anniversary of independent Estonia, a small republic on the Baltic coast that was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. The official Soviet news agency Tass complained that Western political figures were encouraging unrest there, a sign demonstrations were expected.

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