Observer-Reporter – May 8, 1991
NOYEMBERIAN, U.S.S.R. (AP) — Soviet soldiers and Azerbaijani riot police on Tuesday seized three more Armenian villages and blockaded Voskepar, where at least 15 Armenians were killed in lighting a day earlier. Houses struck by artillery shells lay in ruins along the road from Voskepar, a town of 2,300 people, to neighboring Noyemberian in the embattled region about 120 miles northeast of Yerevan, the Armenian capital.
The righting, described by Soviet officials as virtually a civil war, has raged eight days in the scenic hills along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. At least 50 people have been killed and scores wounded, Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian said.
Armenians have reported executions and atrocities, but they could not be independently confirmed.
Most of the clashes have taken place as the Soviet army and Azerbaijani Interior Ministry riot police tried to disarm Armenian police and vigilantes in border villages.
“Legally, the Soviet army and Interior Ministry have no right to carry out such actions unless there is a declaration of martial law. We are dealing with a pure act of aggression, an act of undeclared war against Armenia,” Ter-Petrosian told a news conference in Yerevan.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Monday defended his handling of the conflict, saying the main task is to seize weapons from “armed bandits” in the region. Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo said militant Armenians were using villages as bases.
Ter-Petrosian said Soviet and Azerbaijani forces used tanks, helicopters and armored personnel carriers Tuesday to seize Tekh, Shurnukh and Kormdzor, villages in the Goris region about 150 miles south of Yerevan. Troops arrested at least 20 people, most of them Armenian policemen, but no deaths were reported, the Armenian leader said.
Noyemberian, a town of 8,000 people, was in mourning for the victims of Monday’s attack in Voskepar. Ter-Petrosian gave the death toll in that town as 23, but the regional Armenian police chief, Maj. Tigran V. Sarkisian, said in an interview it was 15, including 11 of his officers.
Among them was Lt. Artash Momian, 27, who lay Tuesday in a simple black coffin filled with pink carnations on the dining room table of his two-room house. The body was surrounded by 20 weeping women relatives.
His young wife, who gave birth to a son this week, rested her left hand on his hands, folded on his chest.
With her right hand, she stroked his cheek. A handkerchief covered the lower part of his face, where a bullet hit.
The 11 policemen were on a bus that Soviet and Azerbaijani forces attacked on its way to Voskepar from Noyemberian.