A flurry of international activity to end senseless killing in Nagorno-Karabakh has created a promise of momentum. On Sunday, the deputy foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan initialed a draft peace accord in the Iranian capital. And even though sporadic fighting continues, the presidents of those two former Soviet republics are to meet Thursday in an effort to stop the four-year-old confrontation that has so far claimed 1,500 fatalities.
Tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh, which translates as "black mountain vineyards," have existed for decades. In 1964, just before he fell from power, Nikita S. Khrushchev received a petition requesting that the enclave, which is 80 percent Armenian even though it is ruled by Azerbaijan, be transferred to Armenia. Similar suggestions were made to Presidents Leonid I. Brezhnev and Mikhail S. Gorbachev but to no avail. Meanwhile, Mr. Gorbachev's anti-alcohol drive produced disastrous results in Nagorno-Karabakh. When the age-old vineyards were uprooted, the area's economy was ruined and long-dormant ethnic enmities flared.
After the Soviet Union's collapse, leaders of the newly independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan displayed commendable restraint in dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis. Those leaders, however, do not control the local fighters, who increasingly seem to include mercenaries from the disintegrating former Soviet Army. Whole units reportedly have gone over to one side or the other with their heavy weapons. An American reporter recently even found a captain of an airborne unit who had previously fought in Somalia in Africa!