At Last, Hope in Armenia

September 22, 1990

After months of turbulence, the Armenian government scored a significant victory recently when it managed to disarm a leading private army in an attempt to halt deadly fratricidal gun battles. Granted, other para-military formations and splinter groups continue to exist. But if the zealots of the Armenian National Army can be kept in check, Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian will have some badly needed breathing room in his efforts to show that his republic is capable of orderly self-rule.

This is a crucial time for Mr. Ter-Petrossian. In mid-August, he persuaded President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to extend by two months an expired deadline for Armenian authorities to disband and disarm "unauthorized" military formations, which had been mushrooming since January and now are estimated to include up to 140,000 members. On the heels of this victory, Armenia issued its declaration of sovereignty on Aug. 23. But the euphoria was shattered when members of the Armenian National Army killed a deputy of the republic's Supreme Soviet and an officer of the military wing of the rival Armenian Pan-National Movement. Mr. Ter-Petrossian's deal with Mr. Gorbachev to keep Moscow from intervening in Armenia seemed to be quickly coming apart.

It is in Mr. Gorbachev's best interests to see that Mr. Ter-Petrossian's moderate leadership succeeds in Armenia. Much of the current tension there reportedly springs from the fact that a number of paramilitary formations do not want protracted negotiations about Armenia's future status but an immediate secession from the Soviet Union. In advocating a "pure, Christian Armenia," the extremists preach revenge on neighboring Azerbaijan, an historic Islamic republic which today is exacerbating Armenia's economic troubles by blockading freight and oil shipments. Order will be difficult to maintain. "Obey orders? I don't obey anybody's orders," one Armenian National Army fighter, Vrezh, told The Sun's Scott Shane.

Mr. Ter-Petrossian advocates peaceful transition. Thirteen of the Soviet republics have now passed declarations of independence or sovereignty. Racing against time, Gorbachev leadership is trying to keep the Soviet Union together until a framework for a new union is developed. Meanwhile, widespread shortages of everyday staples underline the collapse of the old order.

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