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Armenian Activists Jailed for a Half-Year Freed

June 1, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ Eleven Armenian activists were freed from jail Wednesday after a half-year of strikes and demonstrations demanding their release, a source said.

Ashot Aslibegyan, head of an unofficial youth group, said 10 members of the Karabakh Committee and a former member were delivered to a cheering crowd of tens of thousands outside the Matenadaran, a repository of ancient Armenian manuscripts in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

The activists had campaigned for Armenia to annex Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian region in the neighboring Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

Aslibegyan said by telephone from Yerevan that he believes the release was a public relations ploy by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev timed to coincide with the meeting in Moscow of the new Soviet parliament.

At the session of the Congress of People’s Deputies that began May 25 and continues Thursday, Armenian deputies demanded resolution of the territorial dispute and freeing of the jailed activists.

″At the Congress, Gorbachev wants to make a big impression on the whole world,″ Aslibegyan said. ″It’s like a theater stage. They want to make noise during these days about the humaneness of the Congress.″

The activists were jailed in December after Gorbachev visited Yerevan and sharply attacked the group for fanning ethnic tensions. No formal charges were ever announced.

The committee had spearheaded demonstrations and strikes beginning in February 1988 aimed at putting Nagorno-Karabakh under Armenian control.

At least 90 people were killed last year in violence stemming from the demand and the opposition of most ethnic Azerbaijanis to it.

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