Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Jan 16, 1990
Baku, is “reminiscent of news from the warfront” in World War II, Soviet TV commentator Igor Kudrin said grimly. Izvestia said at least 33 people had died in the past three days in anti-Armenian rampages in Baku, a city of 1.7 million, but that the figure could rise as other ransacked apartments were inspected. Attacks on the homes of Armenians were continuing, with more killings, Soviet TV said. It said 34 people, mostly Armenians, had been injured.
“Last night in Baku was as horrible as the previous one,” Tass special correspondents N. Demidov and V. Gondusov wrote from the city on the Caspian Sea. “Once again, the fires of pogroms burned. Again the blood of innocent people was spilled.” They said people, presumably Armenians, had been burned alive in front of Baku’s railway station.
Less than 20 yards from a police station, “like ugly black dolls, two blackened bodies were cast on a trash heap,” the Tass reporters said.
The Azerbaijani Communist Party tried to issue condolences to relatives of riot victims, but a printing works in Baku wouldn’t print them, saying sympathy should also be expressed for Azerbaijanis whose family members died at the hands of Armenians, according to Interfax, a news service of Radio Moscow.
Two ferries evacuated about 660 Armenians, mostly women and children, from Baku across the Caspian to the city of Krasnovodsk in the republic of Turkmenia, Soviet TV said. They were flown to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, aboard two Tupolev-154 jetliners, said Karen Shakhbazyan, an Armenian activist in the city.
About 20,000 ethnic Armenians, most of them elderly, live in Baku, although the ethnic violence in the last two years has caused a return of Azerbaijanis and Armenians to their home republics.
“Armenia is in a state of battle readiness,” Shakhbazyan reported from Yerevan. He said 200,000 people rallied yesterday on Theater Square and that at least 100 armed police massed at the airport hoping to fly helicopters to Azerbaijan to defend Armenians there. Shakhbazyan said businesses in Yerevan formed “defense committees” of volunteers. In the city of Leninakan, a city hit hard by the 1988 earthquake, 10 machine guns and 100 assault rifles were seized from an Interior Ministry troops detachment, he said.
Tass reported that Armenian fighters had taken hostages in the Azerbaijani city of Gyandzha, and Izvestia said unidentified people broke into an agricultural institute and grabbed 80 automatic weapons, two machine guns, a mortar and 27 bayonets kept for students’ military training.
In Shaumyanovsk, Armenians, including the entire Communist Party and government leadership, were taken hostage, Soviet TV said.
The Kremlin dispatched Yevgeny M. Primakov, a non-voting member of the ruling Politburo and chairman of one of the two chambers of the Supreme Soviet legislature, to Baku, and Nikolai N. Slyunkov, a full Politburo member, to Yerevan.
Previous attempts by Moscow, including placing Nagorno-Karabakh under its direct administration, have failed. The mainly Armenian enclave of 160,000 people has been controlled by Azerbaijan since 1923, but now wants to be part of Armenia.