Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Jan 23, 1990
Chess champ criticizes Gorbachev
MOSCOW (AP) – World chess champion Garri Kasparov yesterday condemned the storming of his native city of Baku by Soviet troops, saying too much force was used and that it came too late to save the Armenians. Kasparov, who is of Armenian and Jewish descent and once wrote that his roots were from Moslem capital of Azerbaijan volunteered to mediate the ethnic dispute, which he said could spread and toad to a “blood-bath” across the Soviet Union.
At a Moscow news conference marked by an even-handedness seldom seen in the two-year Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Kasparov said plenty of Interior Ministry troops and police were in Baku before Saturdays attack. Yet they took no armed action against the roving squads that reportedly killed at least 67 Armenians and ravaged 1,200 apartments in a six-day campaign of terror.
Instead of halting the murderers, officials evacuated the Armenians, and Kasparov contended that virtually all had left by the time Soviet troops attacked on Saturday.
“That is why I cannot accept the official explanation” that the troops attacked Baku to stop the ethnic violence, he said.
He said he thought the attack was meant to crush the pro-independence movement in Azerbaijan and warn similar groups in other republics
“I fear that what is now happening in Azerbaijan may lead to a terrible bloodbath in the whole country.” said Kasparov, 26. He added that he feared that angry Azerbaijanis could turn on the 100,000 Russian residents of Baku, expanding the ethnic conflict.
“If clashes are provoked between Russians and Azerbaijanis, and if there are victims or refugees among the Russian population, just think what might happen if they show up in Moscow,” he said.
Baku, like many Soviet cities, is home to a variety of ethnic groups in his autobiography, “Child of Change,” Kasparov wrote about his boyhood experiences in the Azerbaijani capital. “My roots are in Baku. That knowledge gives me strength when I go off to conquer other worlds and gives me solace when I return.” Kasparov spends most of his time now in Moscow, where he has a Russian wife.
At least 167 people have been killed since the wave of violence began 10 days ago, including 95 since Soviet troops poured into the city Saturday morning and were met with firebombs and machine-gun fire. Azerbaijanis estimate that the death toll is far higher, and Kasparov put it at 500 to 600.
Kasparov, who rescued 60 of his friends and relatives Wednesday night, said the government had shown it was either unwilling or unable to solve the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute and called for individuals to begin direct negotiations between the neighboring republics. He offered to act as a mediator.
He declined to lay blame exclusively on President Mikhail S. Gorbachev during the news conference. But in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, he said the violence was cultivated by conservatives to undermine Gorbachev, and he blamed the Soviet leader for not taking decisive action.
Kasparov, who became the youngest world chess champion in November 1985 and earlier this month became the highest-rated player in history, has spoken out frequently on domestic problems in the Soviet Union.
He said he used his own money to charter a plane – virtually impossible in the Soviet Union – with the help of the Chess Union. He managed to get his refugees past Azerbaijani mobs to the Baku airport on a back road, and 40 of them are staying with him in Moscow.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Kasparov’s wife, Maria, said the passengers included two of his mother’s brothers, other relatives, several of his chess friends and eight to 10 strangers who happened to be at the Baku airport.