Mood darkens in Armenian republic as activists defy Kremlin hard line
Tension remains high in Armenia and the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. After two mass meetings in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, activists have again called a general strike to protest Moscow's refusal to transfer the territory from Azerbaijan to Armenia. Meanwhile, the Soviet government has attacked the organization behind the agitation as a cover for ``careerists and bribe-takers.'' ``The mood here is terrible,'' a staffer of the Armenian Communist Party newspaper Kommunist said in a telephone interview Wednesday, two days after the Supreme Soviet confirmed Nagorno-Karabakh's affiliation with Azerbaijan. She said that Wednesday's meeting in Yerevan had brought out half-a-million people who had voted ``unanimously'' in favor of a two-day strike. The strike, she added, was declared to be ``optional.'' Reports reached Yerevan that inhabitants of the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, had declared a hunger strike. Work stoppages in Nagorno-Karabakh continue.
A dispatch carried by the official news agency Tass yesterday attacked a number of Armenians it said had been active in the ``Karabakh Committee,'' which has been organizing actions in Armenia in support of union with Nagorno-Karabakh. The names included members of Armenia's cultural and social elite. Among them were a member of the Armenian Academy of Science, Rafael Kazaryan, and a member of the writers' union, Vano Siradegyan.
``Provocateurs'' had distributed leaflets with extremist nationalist slogans, Tass claimed, and two young men with incendiary devices had been arrested at a Yerevan meeting Sunday.
The Tass dispatch neatly summarized the present government line: The activists are using the Nagorno-Karabakh issue for their own ends. Activists claim to support reform, and demonstrators have in the past carried photographs of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The official version rejects this. It describes the organizers as nationalist extremists, or corrupt members of the elite associated with now-discredited former leaders of Armenia.
According to the official view of affairs, the Armenian Communist Party has been lax in its response to the unrest, and has allowed activists to seize the initiative. This interpretation seems to be leading toward the dissolution of the Karabakh Committee and the arrest of its leaders.
One problem with a crackdown, however, is that even the official version of events admits that the local police are demoralized. (The polarization of Armenian society is also graphically illustrated by the way Armenian Communist Party journalists routinely brief Western colleagues by phone).
If Moscow does take a hard line, it will once again probably have to send in a sizable number of troops. Armenians have warned that the long-term effect of such an action could be extremely serious.
The Tass dispatch also makes it clear that the Karabakh Committee has a sophisticated organizational structure. During the strikes that preceded the Supreme Soviet hearing, Tass said, the Committee had compensated its leaders for lost salaries.
Sections of the Karabakh Committee have been set up in ``nearly every enterprise and institute, and in educational establishments,'' in many cases supplanting party organizations, Tass asserted.