Search For Causes Of USSR Disintegration In Karabakh -4
By Peter Lyukimson, Kuryer, Israel, N28-32, June 1992
Vestnik Kavkaza, Russia - 11/9/2014
Peter Lyukimson lived in Baku until 1991. He worked as a journalist there in the late 80s-early 90s and witnessed the events preceding the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, Sumgayit, Khojaly...
The feature story "Nagorno-Karabakh: chronicles of the conflict. Notes of a Jew from Baku" was written in 1992, soon after the move of the author to Israel. It was published in a Russian-language paper of Israel named Kuryer. Those were the times when the tone in the cultural and the public life of the Russian-speaking community of Israel was set by the Moscow and Saint Petersburg clerisy. It had a big impact on the attitude of Israeli society towards the events on the territory of the former USSR. They sympathized with Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan. As it turned out, most Israelis knew nothing about the origin of the conflict or the truth about its development.
The position of the Jewish clerisy on the issue was formed based only on publications in the central Soviet and partly on Western press, which were not always impartial.
Fear is what has often led people at protests. Fear, for everyone trying to stutter about reluctance to engage in politics and demonstrating indifference to who will take control over Karabakh, was immediately labeled "a traitor of the common Armenian cause..."
On September 21, after several pogroms, the last Azerbaijani left Stepanakert... And still, Azerbaijan was waiting for things to settle.
Only when it became clear that Armenians had started cutting down trees at the sacred grove of Topkhan, demonstrating that the Armenian authorities were indifferent to the de jure status of the NKAO, annexing it de facto, did Azerbaijanis gather at the square opposite the government building. But the crowd was carrying the national flags of the Musavat Azerbaijan, not the red flags.
Meanwhile, in Baku, Kirovabad (Ganja) and other districts of the republic, mass sacking of Armenians started. Many sacked workers were in a hurry to get away from Azerbaijan, understanding that they were prisoners of the political game of their government and any new demand by Armenia could provoke a new Sumgait at any place in Azerbaijan... The number of Armenian refugees started growing. On the other hand, they were not really refugees, they were more like the first wave of a transfer than an exodus...
In such a situation, First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party Vezirov found no better solution than to ask Moscow for additional troops to help the army take the republic under control. On November 24, a special state was declared in Baku, Nakhchivan and Kirovabad. On December 5, troops were ordered to clear Lenin Square in Baku of the last demonstrators. At 5.00am, General Tyagunov, the city commandant, ascended a tribune and addressed the young people: "Comrades, the sanitary condition of the square forces us to clear it for tidying up. Everyone willing [to do so] may get on buses that will deliver you home."
Most stayed where they were. And then soldiers with truncheons started
moving towards them.
The square was cleared then... Now Baku was in order, everyone was leaving the house with their passports and hurrying back home after 9.00pm to be on time before the curfew... At the same time, Armenia was in a hurry to deal with the rest of the Azerbaijanis. People were tortured, their houses set on fire, cemeteries dug up. Refugees started moving over mountain passes. Dozens of helicopters were sent to save people dying in the mountains.
"God will not forgive, neither can the earth," said one Azerbaijani who lost a granddaughter on the pass and searched for her in Baku, "he cannot forgive when cemeteries are desecrated..." And the earth did respond, the world was shocked on September 8 when the terrible earthquake happened in Spitak and Leninakan, the place the last Azerbaijanis were driven out of the previous day.
Gorbachev ended a visit to the U.S. and returned to the USSR.
Governments of dozens of countries were in a hurry to express condolences to the Armenian people... A lot depended on the Azerbaijanis that day. The authorities of the republic tried to use the last chance to make peace. Three hours after receiving reports about the earthquake, Armenian radio broadcast the condolences of the Azerbaijani side. Carriages with food, medications and essentials were urgently sent from Baku, medics and builders were despatched. Protests of the Karabakh committee were waiting for them on roads.
"Turn back, we do not want anything from enemies..." they said.
The last chance was lost, only the path of war was left.
Baku, being in a special state, was silenced, but everyone knew that it was the calm before a storm. Ever more rumours about weapons being shipped via humanitarian aid to earthquake-hit Armenia were appearing.
The rumours soon proved true, the forces of the USSR Interior Ministry intercepted a shipment of SMGs and ammunition from Yerevan to Stepanakert. The investigative group found several ammunition warehouses in the NKAO. Most of them were hidden in Armenian churches.
With the efforts of Vezirov, tens of thousands of Armenians scattered around the Soviet Union figured that their homeland only needed them as propaganda bait. They returned to Baku...
To be continued...