Reports of killings outrage Azeris Russians alleged to aid Armenians

March 06, 1992|By Laura Le Cornu | Laura Le Cornu,Contributing Writer

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Women wept, and men turned their heads away sadly as a film showing mutilated and dead bodies of young Azeri children and women flashed across the screen during an extraordinary session of the Azeri Parliament yesterday.

"The government is trying to hide from the people the tragedy that occurred in Khodzhaly," shouted Isa Mahmedov, a leading figure of the opposition coalition, during a heated debate between opposition deputies and former Communists over showing the film.

In an apparent victory for the increasingly powerful opposition coalition, the Popular Front, a majority voted to view the film.

For some deputies it was the first opportunity to see evidence of last week's slaughter of up to 1,000 Azeris by Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The silence in the chamber was broken by the growing roar of "Istifa" -- resign -- by thousands of angry demonstrators outside who, having pushed through police barricades, advanced up the steps outside the building.

Clenching photos of lost loved ones or friends from Khodzhaly, and with right fists clenched in the air, an irate mob of women came on.

"I show this photograph to my two little children every day," screamed one, wildly waving a newspaper clipping of a mutilated baby. "This is Russian imperialism."

Opposition leaders, who rushed to calm the rowdy crowd, were pushed back against the building's windows as the mob swirled around them and smashed the glass while trying to enter the building.

A standoff followed as the solemn crowd of deputies stood face to face with the hysterical group of women.

Nearly 5,000 demonstrators rallied outside Baku's hilltop parliament building overlooking the Caspian sea, demanding the resignation of Azeri President Ayaz Mutalibov while the government debated late into the night how to respond after the bloodiest week of fighting in the four-year war in Karabakh.

The government has been under heavy criticism from the Popular Front for mishandling the crisis. It was not forthcoming with news about the massacre until several days later, raising an initial death toll figure of 2 to more than 1,000.

Even some sources close to the president say he is "a traitor."

"Mutalibov is isolated. His closest friends are abandoning him," said one presidential adviser. "His closest contacts are in Moscow."

Demonstrators, holding signs reading "Istifa" and Azeri national flags, gave thunderous applause when the military commander of Shusha, the last remaining Azeri town in Karabakh, came out of the parliament to address the crowd.

"We are moving toward war -- we must be united," appealed Rahim Gaziyev, a former mathematician dressed in combat gear, through a loudspeaker. "Azeri people must live with honor. If we cannot, then we will fight till we die to defend our country."

Yesterday's large anti-government rally, which comes almost a week after the Khodzhaly massacre, follows a period of subdued public reaction. The front, fearing the government would call in Soviet troops still based on Azeri territory, canceled public rallies after the recent bloodshed.

The nation is still haunted by the events of January 1990 when about 150 people were killed after Soviet troops marched into Baku to crack down on crowds demonstrating for independence.

But as refugees trickle in from Karabakh and dead bodies are hauled in for public burials, many observers are not surprised to see public anger unleashed at the Mutalibov government. The formerly remote war in Karabakh, an enclave mainly populated by Armenians but claimed by both republics, is rapidly touching lives in Baku.

Similarly fierce anti-Russian and anti-Armenian sentiment, previously confined to Azeris in Karabakh, is visible among Baku residents as evidence of Russian support for Armenian militiamen grows.

"Our teacher told us the Armenians have announced a plan to march from Karabakh to plant their flag in Baku," said Vugar, a 23-year-old student.

Azeris insist that growing fears of an anti-Russian backlash are unfounded. The republic's ethnic Russians, who number around a half-million, support Azerbaijan in conflict with Armenia.

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