MOSCOW -- The president of Armenia accused the Kremlin yesterday of the "monstrous crime" of ordering Soviet troops to shoot, loot and burn homes to drive Armenians out of two villages in neighboring Azerbaijan.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan compared the assault on Getashen and Martunashen, in which he said at least 36 Armenians were killed last week, to the anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani cities of Sumgait in 1988 and Baku in 1990.
As Mr. Ter-Petrosyan spoke at a press conference here, an estimated 200,000 Armenians gathered in the republic's capital, Yerevan, to mourn victims of the violence.
The Soviet ministries of defense and internal affairs, whose troops were involved, did not directly deny the charges. They issued a toughly worded joint statement yesterday accusing Armenian militants of conducting "provocative bandit actions" against Soviet soldiers.
The statement said "the number of dead and wounded soldiers is growing" but did not give a total.
For their part, Azerbaijani officials claim the operations in Getashen and Martunashen were necessary to drive out heavily armed Armenian militants using the villages as bases for attacks on Azerbaijani villages.
The violence is a significant flare-up in more than three years of strife between the Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis, ancient enemies in mountainous Transcaucasia.
The center of the dispute is Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian territory inside Azerbaijan that has long sought unification with Armenia.
Apart from Karabakh, Getashen and Martunashen are among a small number of pockets of Armenians remaining inside Azerbaijan. Armenians charge that the joint operation of Azerbaijani and Soviet troops is aimed at forcibly deporting them from the republic, with the goal of driving Armenians out of Karabakh.
The area is closed to reporters, and facts about what is happening there are hard to establish. However, border clashes appear to be approaching the point of civil war, and this time, Soviet forces seem to be strongly on the side of Azerbaijan.
Mr. Ter-Petrosyan, who came to power by defeating the Communist Party and is leading an independence drive, said there is an logical reason for Moscow's bias.
His parliament has privatized all land and is moving far more swiftly than the rest of the Soviet Union toward a market economy. It recently nationalized Communist Party property in Armenia, infuriating President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and his fellow Communist leaders in Moscow.