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25 Hurt in Clash Between Armenians, Azerbaijanis

September 20, 1988|From Times Wire Services

MOSCOW — Armenians and Azerbaijanis armed with rifles, handguns and knives engaged in "mass-scale" street fighting in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, wounding 25 people in one of the bloodiest such incidents there in seven months, Tass said Monday.

The official Soviet news agency said Armenians rushed from a rally Sunday in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital of Stepanakert to the nearby village of Khadzhaly after reports of Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes there.

"When many of those attending the rally went to the village, firearms and knives were used in mass-scale fights on both sides," Tass said.

"As a result, 25 people were injured, and 17 of them were hospitalized," it said. "Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis were injured."

An editor for the Tass affiliate in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, however, said by telephone that Azerbaijanis were the only ones carrying firearms and that 19 of those injured were Armenians.

Police and special troops of the Ministry of Interior intervened to end the fighting, Tass said.

Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh have been seeking to break away from the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan and join the Armenian republic. Azerbaijan, populated mostly by Muslims, has ruled Nagorno-Karabakh since 1923 even though 80% of the area's 165,000 people are Christian Armenians.

The street battles in Khadzhaly represented the bloodiest sectarian violence since Feb. 28, when 26 Armenians and six Azerbaijanis were killed in three days of clashes in the Azerbaijani port city of Sumgait, on the Caspian Sea.

That fighting set off strikes and demonstrations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. But the Supreme Soviet ruled July 18 that Nagorno-Karabakh must remain part of Azerbaijan. It then ordered a crackdown to restore order.

Although the strikes and rallies abated, reports began reaching Moscow last week of renewed restiveness in Nagorno-Karabakh, including a weeklong strike.

Tass confirmed the reports of renewed discontent Monday.

"Strikes have been provoked at factories, in construction brigades and on public transport," it said. "Classes have been discontinued at school.

"An attack was organized on the public prosecutor's office, and there have been cases of bodily harm to both soldiers of the . . . Interior Ministry and militiamen, who are ensuring public order," Tass said.

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